Two Dozen Things We Love About This Place: First Nations heritage stands tall (20)

Totem poles at Thunderbird Park and the 39-metre pole in Beacon Hill Park are well-known to Greater Victoria residents, but there are many more throughout the capital region.

Poles and carved figures dating to the 1800s, collected from Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii and northwestern B.C., are displayed at the Royal B.C. Museum. It is a powerful collection displayed next to photographs showing them in their original locations.

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Newer poles have been commissioned, many in recent years, and stand in locations such as Victoria International Airport, the Lodge at Broadmead and in Centennial Square.


Each has a story. Many are named. Animals and humans are represented in each.

Poles are typically made of western red cedar, which is less susceptible to rot than other local woods, says carver Carey Newman, who designed the two poles at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and at the Sooke Harbour House and in Duncan is the Spirit Pole. Newman, a Kwagiulth artist, heads up Blue Raven Gallery in Sooke and carves totems on commission.

“A standard way to look at a totem is thinking of the most important figures at the base, but everybody having a different role,” Newman said.

For instance, a frog is depicted at the base of one of the Friendship Centre poles. “I often have a frog at the base of my totem because a frog is the storyteller. His job is to relate the story of the totem,” he said.

“Each totem will have been carved for a different purpose. Sometimes they are for a memorial, sometimes they are to celebrate an event, sometimes a family story, or a legend of some sort. Sometimes they are healing totem. So there are a lot of different reasons why you would carve a totem.”

One friendship centre pole called Connected to Our Roots illustrates how all people are connected. It has not been painted and is done in a Salish style. The other, which is painted, was designed in a Kwagiulth style, under the theme One People. “The reason that I chose those themes is because it is the friendship centre and it’s about welcoming all nations to a place where they can access all different things.”

There will be different common practices for different First Nations cultures from different areas. “The way things are put together might have a slightly different meaning in a Kwagiulth, Salish or Nuu-chah-nulth totem,” Newman said.

Some of the totem poles in Greater Victoria

• Royal B.C. Museum, 675 Belleville St.: View ground-floor poles through the glass near the gift shop and in the lobby. Poles and figures dating to the 1800s are displayed alongside photographs of them in their original locations on Vancouver Island, along with historical information.

The Totem Hall in the First Peoples Gallery includes carvings from Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitxsan, Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Another pole by Kwakwaka’wakw carver Richard Hunt stands outdoors among native plants, facing Belleville Street. Erected 1979.

• Thunderbird Park: Created in 1941 at the corner of Belleville and Douglas streets where a display of museum poles was set up. Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Mungo Martin was first chief carver. Henry Hunt and his sons, Tony and Richard, and Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul followed. An honouring pole by Sean Whonnock and Johnathan Hunt is the most recently raised pole on site.

• Beacon Hill Park. Spirit of Lekwammen: At 39 metres, it is called the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole. It was created in 1956 by carver Mungo Martin. It has been repainted and restored.

• B.C. legislature front lawn facing Belleville Street: The Knowledge Totem was carved by Cicero August and his sons Darrell and Doug August, of the Cowichan Tribes, and erected in 1990.

• Upper Causeway on the Inner Harbour, Belleville and Government streets: Kwakiutl Bear Pole by Henry Hunt.

• East side of Laurel Point Inn toward the Belleville Ferry Terminal in Centennial Park: Kwakiutl totem pole by James Dick.

• Victoria Conference Centre: First Nations art includes an eight-metre red cedar Kwagiulth-style totem pole created by Tony Hunt, of the Kwagiulth band at Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver Island. A Haida clan’s pole by Don Yeomans. A pole called First Wolf Dancer was created by Nuu-chah-nulth carver Art Thompson in 1982, assisted by John Goodman.

• Nootka Court, 808 Douglas St.: Each entrance, and the central open courtyard, features a totem pole. All four were carved by Tony Hunt and erected in the 1970s.

• Centennial Square: Two spirit poles carved by Coast Salish carver Butch Dick and his son Clarence Dick are in the southwest corner of Centennial Square near Government Street and Pandora Avenue.

• Victoria Police Department, 850 Caledonia St.: Unity pole by Charles W. Elliot, of the Tsartlip First Nation.

• Songhees: By Richard Krentz and 11 other artists. It was raised at the opening of the 1994 Commonwealth Games. It was dismantled in 1994 and made into four sections. Two remain at Pallastis Point. The other two went to the Songhees Nation.

• Dockside, on Harbour Road at Point Ellice Park: Water Keepers Pole by Charles Elliot was erected in 2008.

• Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave.: A replica of a totem pole Mungo Martin created in 1959 for the Royal Canadian Navy, called Hosaqami, was raised in September 2012. His adoptive grandson Tony Hunt, who helped with the original pole as a boy, was commissioned to carve the new Hosaqami in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

• Victoria Native Friendship Centre, 231 Regina Ave.: Two poles carved by Kwagiulth artist Carey Newman and participants of the Eagle Project.

• Esquimalt Road, next to city hall: To commemorate 75 years of the Royal Canadian Navy’s establishment in Esquimalt, the Chiefs and Petty Officers Association commissioned a pole as a mark of friendship with the townspeople. Carved by native artist Vic Newman, it was dedicated in 1989.

• University of Victoria:

Welcome figures at the First Peoples House entrance were carved by Doug LaFortune of the Tsawout First Nation. Charles W. Elliot carved two house posts for the building.

A Creation Story Pole, also by Charles Elliott, is near the Elliott Building. Two replica poles by Tony and Henry Hunt — The Raven Soaring and Eagle on the Decayed Pole — UVic quad. A welcome figure by Floyd Joseph is outside the Engineering Office Wing. A welcome pole by Fabian Quocksister and Butch Dick is near the MacLaurin Building. A pole by Butch Dick is outside the Student Union Building.

• Camosun College, Lansdowne campus: Bukwila, the Welcoming Figure, carved by the late master carver Art Thompson, is dedicated to the Dididaht Whaling Chief of the same name. This totem stands outside the Wilna Thomas building.

• Lodge at Broadmead and Veterans Health Centre, 4579 Chatterton Way: The pole commemorates the contributions and sacrifices made by Canadian aboriginal veterans. It was designed and carved by Calvin Hunt, a master carver from Fort Rupert.

• Thrifty Foods, 7860 Wallace Dr.: Four recently restored House Posts, designed in 1998, were designed by carver Charles Elliott.

• Swartz Bay Terminal, B.C. Ferries: Inside the Lands End Café. Was erected in 1966. It is by carver Henry Hunt.

• Lau,WelNew Tribal School. West Saanich Road, north of Stellys Cross Road: Art work includes a totem pole standing out in front of the school. The exterior’s traditional artworks were mostly created by Charles Elliott.

• Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Ave.: Commissioned poles to mark its 100th anniversary. Two poles, one by Tsawout First Nation carver Doug LaFortune, and the other by Charles Elliot, are located near the concert lawn.

• Victoria International Airport: Three totem poles were created by Charles Elliott. They are outside the Arrivals doors.

• Town of Sidney: A bear and frog pole by Tony Hunt welcomes passengers arriving on the Anacortes Ferry.

• Portage Inlet: Tsimshian Bear Pole carved by Charlie Dudoward, of Port Simpson.

• Sooke Harbour House: 1528 Whiffen Spit Rd.: Created by the Carey Newman family in traditional Kwagiulth-Salish style, the totem depicts the Philip family, owners of Sooke Harbour House.

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