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B.C. Ferries gifts Horseshoe Bay totem pole to carver's family on north Island

The pole was erected at the terminal in 1966 after being created by a then-24-year-old Tony Hunt Sr. as a centennial project

A totem pole commissioned almost 60 years ago by B.C. ­Ferries has been gifted to the family of the man who carved it, and will be placed at his grave to honour his legacy.

The four-metre-tall pole, carved from western red cedar, features a bear and a chief with a hat or helmet. It was erected at Horseshoe Bay terminal in 1966 after it was created by a then-24-year-old Tony Hunt Sr., one of a series of totem poles commissioned to mark Canada’s centennial the following year.

Hunt, whose carvings are in museums around the world, was a hereditary chief and the eldest of six sons of renowned artist Henry Hunt. His maternal grandfather was another celebrated artist, Mungo Martin.

B.C. Ferries said it began considering what to do with the totem pole last year after concerns were raised about its safety because of rot and wear.

As an interim measure, an engineering company was brought in to design an attachment to keep the totem pole stable.

Toni Edenshaw, the Indigenous-relations liaison for B.C. Ferries, contacted the Hunt family to ask if they would like the pole returned to Kwakiutl First Nation land on northern Vancouver Island. The family was quick to say yes, and B.C. Ferries started the process of repatriating the totem pole to Fort Rupert on Aug. 28. A work crew lifted it from its concrete base and onto a tandem-axle crane truck. The work followed months of planning, and included moving electrical wires in the area.

Edenshaw said there is a special procedure for moving a totem pole and she had many conversations with Stanley Clifford Hunt, Tony Sr.’s brother, to make sure it was done properly, like keeping it from touching the ground.

Hunt was excited about the totem pole coming home and said B.C. Ferries was “incredibly gracious” to offer it the family.

An acclaimed carver himself, he was on a recent tour of western Canada with a totem pole he carved for Indigenous children who attended residential schools.

He said he is going to restore his brother’s totem pole and “bring it back to as good a life as I can.”

“Tony and I were really close,” he said. “It’s just a huge honour for me and, I know, for our family that we would get to see and help one of Tony’s totem poles be restored and be on display again.”

He and eight family members were on hand Aug. 29 when the totem pole arrived in Fort Rupert after a four-hour drive from the Departure Bay terminal.

It was unloaded with great caution.

“We were doing it with utmost care and with utmost respect and so much emotion for us all,” Hunt said. “I looked at it the next morning, I looked out in the backyard and there it is, looking back at me.”

He said the pole will get a coat of paint and possibly additional wood before it is placed “beside where Tony is resting.”

Hunt said his brother’s legacy includes not only his art but all the artists he trained.

Having the totem pole come home is special for the family, he said.

“When we look out now, we can feel Tony’s spirit.”

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