The elephants among us

Jumbo: More than a glacier, more than a proposed resort, but the most famous pachyderm of them all.

Could anything named Jumbo ever be bigger than the famous elephant of the same name? Oh yes!

I’ve written several times about the elephant as a symbol for Cranbrook — and not just because of that Cranbrook Ed business so long ago. Here I go again.

Indeed, there’s something about the elephant’s character and ponderous strength that we claim as our own. The City of Cranbrook chose the eagle as its symbol — sort of —  after a rebranding exercise a few years ago. But I’ve always felt the elephant should be our unofficial totem.

Well, the spirit pachyderm is back, and this time it’s stomping around the whole East Kootenay. What on earth do I mean? Jumbo, that’s what I mean.

I would hazard a guess that not many people are aware that that mountainous massif and glacier near Invermere, the subject of so much talk, is named after an elephant. The greatest elephant of them all. The world’s most famous elephant.

Jumbo the Circus Elephant (1861 ‒ 1885) was an African elephant who after an early career as a zoo elephant was sold in 1881 to P. T. Barnum’s Barnum & Bailey Circus (“The Greatest Show On Earth”). Jumbo was huge — his height is estimated as between 3.25 metres and four metres. Thus his name has spawned the common word “jumbo”, meaning large in size.

Jumbo died in Canada at St. Thomas, Ontario, where he was hit and fatally wounded by a locomotive. Barnum afterwards said that Jumbo died saving a young circus elephant, Tom Thumb, from being hit by the locomotive, but other witnesses did not support this. We can choose to believe whichever story we prefer.

So now, we have this elephantine word “Jumbo” in our lexicon, and this elephantine presence in our region — the glacier near Invermere and the proposed year-round ski resort at that same location. What’s with all these elephants? Can Jumbo the circus elephant be adopted as some sort of symbol for the glacier and proposed resort, much as Cranbrook Ed personifies Cranbrook (as I choose to believe it does)? Let’s compare.

Jumbo the circus elephant’s colour was grey. Jumbo the glacier’s colour is white, or so it is hoped — white with snow for skiers to enjoy all year round at the proposed resort.

After Jumbo the circus elephant’s death, many metallic objects were found in his stomach, including pennies, nickels and dimes. Thus Jumbo the circus elephant had money poured down his throat, so to speak, veritable handfuls of change. Jumbo the proposed resort too will have money poured down its throat, so to speak — an estimated development cost of $450 million — veritable handfuls of change.

Jumbo the circus elephant died young, suddenly and heroically (depending on which story you choose to believe). Jumbo the glacier is old, and is melting slowly and incrementally, without fanfare, like many glaciers. Jumbo the proposed resort has been hanging on to life by its fingernails, for years and years and years and years and years.

Jumbo the circus elephant was too big to fit in a room. Jumbo the glacier and Jumbo the proposed resort likewise. “An elephant in the room” means an “obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.”

Well, everyone talked about Jumbo the circus elephant. And we’ve been talking about the other Jumbos for years and years and years and years and years. In time we may forget about Jumbo the circus elephant, but it strikes me we’ll keep talking about the other Jumbos until we go the way of the mammoth.

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