The Totem Poles Of Totem Park

I got to spend an enjoyable day in Vancouver’s Stanley Park recently. The high point of the day was my visit to the Totem Poles of Totem Park where there is an excellent display of eight different Totem poles. These polesrepresent a variety of woodcarving styles and artists. The Totems range in size from an estimated 12 to 25 feet and all but one is brightly painted. It is easy to see why this is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in British Columbia!

The Totem Poles Of Totem Park

The Totems on display are the Oscar Maltipi Pole, the Beaver Crest Pole, the Chief Wakas Pole, the Sky Chief Pole, the Thunderbird House Post, Ga’akstalas, Kaka’solas, and the Chief Skedans Mortuary Pole. Unfortunately the Beaver Crest Pole is hidden in the above photo. It resides on the left-hand side of the display sort of behind the Oscar Maltipi Pole. (guess I’ll have to go back to get better photos ;))

Also on display at the park are three huge 15 foot tall ‘gateways’, entitled “People Amongst the People” which were designed and crafted by Coast Salish carver, Susan Point. This is a new addition to the park, in fact, the unveiling for it was within days of my visit. Since Totem Park is located in Coast Salish territory and the Totem poles were made by the Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida and Nisga’a it is nice to see that the Coast Salish are finally being represented here.

Totems poles are unique to the Northwest Coast of BC and Lower Alaska. They were used by the First Peoples to record their history and preserve their legends. They were not idols nor used in worship. Each pole had a story to tell and the stories were respective of the families which owned the Totem. For most, we can only surmise their individual meanings.

Here are some photos and a bit of info on each of the Totems here in Totem Park:

Here is the Oscar Maltipi Pole which was carved in 1968 by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Oscar Maltipi. Here you can see the prominent Thunderbird and Whale:

The Oscar Maltipi Pole Of Totem Park

This is the Beaver Crest Pole which was carved in 1987 by Nisga’a artist Norman Tait with his son Isaac, brother Robert and nephew Ron Telek. It depicts how the Tait family’s Eagle clan adopted the Beaver as their crest, and how Eagle and Raven met and shared the sky:

The Beaver Crest Pole Of Totem Park

This is the Chief Wakas Pole (center) and it represents the ‘talking stick’ and characters in an Owikeno story belonging to Chief Wakas. The original pole was raised in front of Chief Wakas’ house in Alert Bay in the 1890’s. Nimpkish artist Doug Cranmer, who has inherited Chief Wakas’ crests, carved this new pole in 1987:

The Chief Wakas Pole Of Totem Park

This Totem (forefront) is called Kaka’solas. It was completed in 1955 by Kwakwaka’wakw carver Ellen Neel. It was originally completed for the Woodwards Department store and is presently on loan to Totem Park from the Museum of Anthropology of UBC:

The Sky Chief Pole was carved by Hesquiat artist Tim Paul and Ditidaht artist Art Thompson in 1988 to represent important characters in Nuu-chah-nulth history:

The Sky Chief Pole Of Totem Park

This is the Thunderbird House Post. Carved house posts are used in traditional First Nations cedar houses to support the huge roof beams. This pole is a replica of a house post carved by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charlie James in the early 1900’s. Tony Hunt carved this replica in 1987 to replace the older pole which is now in the Vancouver Museum:

The Thunderbird House Post Of Totem Park

Next is Ga’akstalas (on the left) which was carved by Wayne Alfred and Beau Dick in 1991. This pole depicts many important figures in the Kwakwaka’wakw culture. You can see Red Cedar-bark man near the top holding a canoe, the hero Siwidi riding the Killer Whale and at the bottom, Dzunukwa, the Wild-Woman-of-the-Woods:

And finally, the Chief Skedans Mortuary Pole. An older version of this pole was raised in the Haida village of Skidegate about 1870. It honours the Raven Chief and depicts the chief’s hereditary crests. Haida artist Bill Reid with assistant Werner True carved this new pole in 1964. Don Yeomans recarved the top moon face in 1998.

The Chief Skedans Mortuary Pole Of Totem Park

Here are a couple of photos of the carvings on Susan Point’s “People Amongst the People” structures:

People Amongst the People Of Totem Park
People Amongst the People Of Totem Park

Obviously this was a great day, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the smell of the ocean was in the air and there were classic carvings all around!

If you would like to visit Totem Park and see these great wood carvings it is located at Brockton Point in the Eastern part of Stanley Park between Deadman Island and the 9 O’clock Gun.

Books on Totem Poles

If you would like to know more about Totem Poles there is a great book called, appropriately enough, “Totem Poles” by Pat Kramer that chronicles their history and explains the Totem figures and symbols. I picked this up a couple of years ago and have found this to be a great read with lots of full color photos. If interested you can find it here.

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