Leaving messages for the future is not a new idea. Even the ancient Babylonians inscribed tablets in the foundations of their buildings for future generations to discover. Building time capsules as we know them today, however, is a practice far from ancient. The first time a capsule was built with a specific “open by” date took place in 1876, at the US Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which was then dubbed a “century safe”. Some of the items deemed of enough importance to be included in the safe were a gold pen, a book of Americans’ signatures, and a book on temperance.
In 1937 a “Time Bomb” was being prepared for the 1939 New York World Fair, and thanks to a publicist from the event, the words “Time Capsule” were coined and have stuck ever since. A notable artifact contained within this capsule is a letter from Albert Einstein himself, which reportedly says, “People living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror.” It’s doubtful that the children of Gibsons Elementary included any words of this weight in their capsule, but that was for us to find out.
The first step in our search was to look through the digitized archival newspaper collection. The date our time capsule was created had not been noted in our records, so that made the search a bit more difficult. In the end, nothing pertaining to a Gibsons Elementary time capsule was found, but it does seem that there have been quite a few capsules buried on the coast over the years.
In a last-ditch attempt, a basic Google search was done. We couldn’t believe our eyes as the first hit came up; an article titled “What happened to the time capsule at Gibsons Elementary School?”, published by the Coast Clarion. The time capsule in the article had been buried in the late 80’s and was set to be unveiled in 2020, so it seemed that we had found our match. The only problem was that this capsule had been lost when renovations were done at the school. We contacted Brian Low, who wrote the article and assisted in the time capsule assembly, to find out if any new information had been uncovered.
“Please check the map to see if the indicated location of the capsule is beneath the stairs leading down to the gym and stage of the previous Gibson's Elementary School […]
If that is not the location indicated on your map, then perhaps the capsule or some part of it has survived and might yet be displayed! Please let me know either way.
It is just possible that Sam Reid [the principal at the time] had this trick up his sleeve the whole time. As indicate[d] below, he was always quite the showman!”
Since he published the article, Low had in fact located the capsule, although its fate was still a grim one. According to a former secretary from the district, Sam Reid had decided to open the capsule before his retirement in the early 90’s. An event for the unveiling was organized at Sea Cavalcade, and many of the students who contributed to the capsule were in attendance. The capsule had been tampered with slightly, but hope prevailed as Mr. Reid lifted the lid. A wave of disappointment struck as the eager audience realized that at least half of the contents were missing. One of the most precious items to be lost was a video made for the occasion. Interestingly enough, another time capsule buried by Mr.Reid at Cedar Grove Elementary also had a similar fate.
The question still remained, was this doomed capsule really the one in our archives? Or maybe Low was correct in his guess that Sam Reid had another trick up his sleeve. The only way to find out was to open the envelope. An executive decision had to be made as to whether there was reason enough to open it before the written date of September 1st. Whoever buried the capsule surely would want an event to be organized around the unveiling, so it was our duty to ensure that would actually be feasible. On top of that, we had a written request to open it from one of the probable co-organizers.
Despite a slightly disappointing conclusion, we were given the opportunity to learn about Sam Reid and his time capsule antics, which is a wonderful story in itself. Maybe another one of his capsules is still waiting to be discovered underneath a lesser doomed staircase.
“Ironically, we thought at the time that the greatest danger the time capsule faced was having its existence forgotten.”- Brian Low