If you live in the North Okanagan than you are most likely familiar with this name. There’s beautiful Polson Park in the centre of the city, the Polson Extended Care Unit, the Polson Place Mall and, most recently, the massive addition to our hospital - the Polson Tower. So from whom do these places derive their name? The answer is an enigmatic preacher and real estate man originally from Winnipeg. His name was Samuel Polson.
Samuel Polson’s father and mother came over from Scotland with the Selkirk settlers and made a home in Manitoba. As a young man Sam delivered the mail from Winnipeg to Brandon and on to Rapid City. In the latter town he would eventually meet his bride, Elizabeth Sibbald, granddaughter of Captain Sinclair R.N. of Edinburgh, Scotland. They would go on to have a large family together.
At the age of 35, Sam travelled with the famous 19th century evangelist, D.L. Moody, singing in the choir and venturing as far as Chicago. Upon his return to Canada he felt the call of God on his life and entered Manitoba College where he was eventually ordained as a Methodist minister. He went on to be a choir leader and church planter in the Winnipeg area leaving a lasting legacy.
Later he entered into the real estate and insurance fields and it was on one of his business trips out west that he discovered Vernon and the surrounding area of the Okanagan. He wrote home simply: “Get ready to move. I have found the Garden of Eden.” After this move, Polson began purchasing many of the large ranches in the Vernon area including the renowned B.X. Ranch and the Tronson and Ellison estates. Gertrude Peel reports that “With the arrival of the Polson family there was evidence of an increasing interest in civic and community affairs.” Elizabeth Polson was president of the Ladies Hospital Auxiliary and in the heart of Sam Polson there began stirring a passion to give of his land to benefit the community.
In 1908 Sam Polson donated a large mass of land to the City of Vernon – roughly 25 acres – part of which the Vernon Jubilee Hospital would be built on and part of which was promised to be used perpetually as a park for the citizens of Vernon and area. Polson also donated the land for the first Salvation Army Church in Vernon and gave many acres to the town of Enderby which also used it for a hospital and a park.
Sam was known for his avid bicycling around the area and he also served as mayor of Enderby in two separate terms. Guy Bagnall says of Samuel Polson “he was a man of engaging personality; a poet and philosopher, he had established a number of small churches in Winnipeg and gave some time to preaching in this area. He had a warm heart, it was no great problem for him to envisage the benefit of his benefactions to the present and future generations.”
It wasn’t until September 3rd, 1970 that the park in Vernon that Samuel Polson donated and encouraged was finally named in his honour – due in large part to friends who had known him well and knew the honour was due. Some say that Samuel Polson gave too much as he was a poor man at the end of his life but perhaps he knew that his treasure was in Heaven. He died in Enderby in 1931 and “And like the works of many great men of the past which were not appreciated during their lifetime, Mr. Polson’s gifts… will forever be associated with a grand old gentleman who contributed most generously to the happiness of his fellow men.”
“Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Mark 8:36
Sources & Further Reading:
Okanagan Historical Society Report Volume 20: 147-149
Okanagan Historical Society Report Volume 35: 111-112
City of Vernon website