You know Kami the Fish, but do you know the Kamloops mascot's origin story? - InfoNews

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You know Kami the Fish, but do you know the Kamloops mascot's origin story?

Scott McDonnell says his mother used signature stencilling and quotation marks for all of her characters.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Scott McDonnell
December 17, 2019 - 2:23 PM

Whether you call him Kami the Spoolmak Trout or Kami the Fish, almost everyone from Kamloops knows of this famous gun-slinging character.

Although he was created nearly five decades ago, Kami was recently revived and the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce now features him on toques and socks. There has been some dispute over who created Kami the Fish. The Kamloops archives lists two men as the artists and various other people who have tried to take credit for the trout character.

Kent and Scott McDonnell say their mother Jessie Marie McDonnell is the original artist who spent countless hours working on the Kami design for the City and are upset with the lack of credit she has received.

The McDonnell family wants to set the record straight.

“All we’re trying to accomplish here is to give credit where credit is due for an iconic legacy of Kamloops. It grinds our craw to know that our mom’s name is never mentioned, even in the archives," Scott says. "Did somebody take her original? This was the 60s, it’s a different world than now, women versus men."

Kent says his mother was a very artistic person, and she took the challenge of creating a Kamloops mascot seriously.

“The Kami Overlander days, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, they had a local contest to create a (character) that represented Kamloops and what it stood for by promoting tourism, ranching and the cowboy history,” Kent says. “So my mom wanted to develop something. She wanted to promote all of those things, and that's where the fish came about.”

The mascot was also meant to embody the fishing industry in the city at the time. Kent says his mom struggled to get every aspect included.

“My sister remembers my mom stressing about how the hell she could put a cowboy hat on top of the fish, on the top of the fish head. My mom was pretty particular… if you look at the logo, the hat is kind of sits behind the fish’s head and that’s how my mom settled,” Kent says. “I was pretty young but I distinctly remember my mom stressing about the gun as well… at some point, they decided to take the gun off because it was offending people. I think mom wanted the gun on because back then there were the cowboys.”

Scott says all of the characters she would draw and name had similarities like big eyes looking up to the right and she would write each character’s names with a stencil and in quotations.

“There’s all these little clues,” Scott says. “Plus the fact that Kami is in quotations, that was a signature of my mom's whenever she would make art, things would always be in quotations.”

Jessie Marie McDonnell spent much of her time creating characters.
Jessie Marie McDonnell spent much of her time creating characters.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kent McDonnell

Kent says it was surreal for him and his three siblings to see Kami the Fish everywhere around town when he was introduced decades ago. Kami the Fish was on merchandise, a mascot in parades and became a much-loved part of the town.

“I remember when the Kami pins came out,” Kent says. “I remember dad coming home and handing us Kami pins, and we were all super excited mom created this, and mom was always quiet... but she always had a little smile, and she was as proud as we were of her.”

Jessie was born and raised in Kamloops and her family, the Chalmers, used to run a farming equipment company downtown, according to her son. She was an avid figure skater but decided to stay in her hometown and raise children with her husband Randy, who was a Rube Band member and volunteer firefighter.

Randy and Jessie McDonnell were active members of the community and often volunteered their time.
Randy and Jessie McDonnell were active members of the community and often volunteered their time.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Scott McDonnell

She often used her artistic talents to better the community. Kent says his mother’s artwork used to cover the walls of the Royal Inland Hospital’s children’s wing, as she would spend much of her time volunteering there. For her own family, she would always opt for hand-drawn birthday and holiday cards.

“Mom would never buy us a Christmas card, mom would make us a Christmas card,” Kent says. “When I lived in Vancouver, mom would send me a gift pack with some cookies and baking a funny card to go with it, it was always artistic and hand-drawn... her sense of humour came out in everything she did.”

Kent hopes that the Kami craze catches on once again and he says other residents feel the same.

“It was pretty cool to see this all coming back to the forefront again. A lot of people have come out to me and say they would like to see this get promoted further and be promoted like it was in the old days, so I’m pretty excited to see where it could go.”

Though she passed away in 2000 at the age of 63, Kent says he is constantly reminded of his mother thanks to the artwork she created.

“I can see mom all over it,” Kent says. “Obviously, mom is not here anymore but I think of her daily and when I look at Kami.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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