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Totem Pole Websites

  Totem Poles and Cedar Trees   Dutch Totem Pole Websites  
  American Totem Pole Websites I   English Totem Pole Websites  
  American Totem Pole Websites II   Finnish Totem Pole Websites  
  Australian Totem Pole Websites   German Totem Pole Websites  
  Austrian Totem Pole Websites   Icelandic Totem Pole Websites  
  Belgian Totem Pole Websites   Scottish Totem Pole Websites  
  Canadian Totem Pole Websites I   Swedish Totem Pole Websites  
  Canadian Totem Pole Websites II   Totem Poles Admired Worldwide  

Canadian Totem Pole Websites I

Acwsalcta Totem Pole Raising

On 17 May 2007, Nuxalkmc and guests celebrated the 20th anniversary of their tribal school Acwsalcta (Place of Learning) with a totem pole raising followed by a traditional potlatch ceremony. The 40 ft totem pole was carved from a 600 year old red cedar tree by Nuxalk artist Alvin Mack and his son Lyle (right). This is the second totem pole to be erected in front of the Acwsalcta School and it expresses the resurgence of Nuxalk identity and culture in Bella Coola over the past couple of decades. The Nuxalk people established their own educational authority in 1985 and soon after began constructing Acwsalcta School at the Four Mile Reserve. It was officially opened on 27 August 1987.


Alvin and Lyle Mack, Acwsalcta.
Photo: Michael Wigle


Acwsalcta School is a positive step away from the oppressive colonial system of education: "With the settlement of what is now known as BC, residential schools and public schools were established to re-educate aboriginal children in colonial language, history and culture. The manadatory attendance of Nuxalk children at these schools undermined traditional systems of education and worked to strip Nuxalk children of our own identity." The Nuxalk Nation webpage includes a link to a NorthWest Indian News video: Bella Coola Totem Raising. The ten minute video includes four minutes (1:22 - 5:22) filmed at the Acwsalcta School totem pole raising and public potlatch ceremonies on 17 May 2007 in Bella Coola (right). Note: this is a First Nations owned website.


"Bella Coola Totem Raising," 2007.
NorthWest Indian News


Ancestral Engineering

An educational website. Includes a page on totem poles and traditional engineering skills: "No matter how we lived, Aboriginal peoples developed ways and means to survive in harsh climates for thousands of years. We solved problems related to transport, shelter, health communications and other things in unique and innovative ways." Presents archaeological information and explains how the giant cedar trees on the Northwest Coast were felled using stone mauls and fire. Also contemporary examples of totem pole carving and ceremonial raising are introduced.

Drawings of the house of Chief Sonihat, Haida, known as Whale House. Description Built circa 1880.

"A totem pole can be something like a family history book in that they show that people are related to each other, show pride in one’s heritage or wealth, share a joke, or remember a certain person who has died. Totem poles are proudly displayed by families and tribes for all to see. Besides stories that may be told by anybody, some totem poles also illustrate stories that are considered as the private property of a certain family and therefore should only be told by them."

Includes educational activities: Calculate a Tree's Height and Make a Personal Totem Pole and Haida House Construction. From Native Access to Engineering Programme, Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at Concordia University and l'Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec. Note: this is a First Nations owned website.


Sonihat's House, Old Kasaan, 1938.
Photo: University of Washington

Sonihat's House, Old Kasaan.
Photo: University of Washington


Bella Coola Totem Raised

An educational website. One page is a gallery of photos that document the celebration on 21 June 2002 when the Nuxalk Nation raised the first totem in 35 years at the Acwsalcta School in Bella Coola (right). From Turtle Island Native Network. Note: this is a First Nations owned website.

The Nuxalk people originally lived in villages throughout their territory, such as Qomqots at the mouth of the Bella Coola River. Nuxalk architecture, constructed in ancient cedar planks, was spectacular. The village of Qomqots washed away in a flood in 1935 but part of it has been reconstructed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Marcius Barbeau, director of the museum, wrote about the carving traditions of the "Bella Coolas." He discusses the magnificent House Frontal Pole of Tallio which represents the Cannibal Giant of the North. This remarkable pole was collected in 1923 and is on display today in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Related link: Totem Poles.


Bella Coola Totem Pole Raising, 2002.
Photo: Valerie Mack


Bill Reid Foundation

A commercial website. Dedicated to preserving the art and legacies of the Haida artist Bill Reid (1920 - 1998): "Bill Reid was the pivotal force in introducing to the world the great art traditions of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast of North America. His legacies include infusing that tradition with modern ideas and forms of expression, influencing emerging artists, and building lasting bridges between First Nations and other peoples." Includes a photo of the tools that belonged to the legendary Haida carver, Charles Edenshaw (c. 1838 - 1924). "The Raven" (left), a monumental carving in yellow cedar by Reid has become a famous Haida motif. See: Canadian 20 $ Banknote. From the Bill Reid Foundation, Vancouver, British Columbia.


Banknote (left) and sculpture by Bill Reid.
Photo: Bill Reid Foundation


Bill Reid: In Memoriam

An educational website. A memorial tribute to the Haida artist Bill Reid (1920 - 1998). Includes biographical notes, quotations, an analysis of artistic motifs and a bibliography. "Bill Reid revived an artistic tradition that had survived only in museum collections. Drawing on the rich animistic traditions of Haida culture and mythology, he reinterpreted them for a sophisticated audience of connoisseurs around the world, emphasizing exquisite proportions and craftsmanship expressed in precious metals, choice woods, glass and works of paper." For documentary video clips, see: Life and Legend of Bill Reid. Also available in French. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Bill Reid, Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, 1986.
Photo: Canadian Museum of Civilization


British Columbia Archives

A governmental website. Includes a useful page that is a searchable tool to brouse documents. Features a visual database of photographs, paintings and illustrations as well as moving images and cartographic records. Search by title, subject term, personal name or geographic region. Using the keyword "totem pole," historical photos can be accessed many of which show the totem poles in their original indigenous locations. The remarkable Nuxalk raven house pole, for example, was located in the Tallio village near Bella Coola (right). Soon after this photo was taken, the house pole was removed by the ethnologist collector of the museum in Victoria for display at the Thunderbird Park. From the government of British Columbia.


Tallio in Nuxalk Territory, c. 1900.
Photo: BC Archives


British Columbia Totem Poles

A commercial tourism website. One page is devoted to totem poles. "Totem poles are wonderful examples of aboriginal art - the ancient practice of totem carving has been handed down through generations as a way of preserving the history of local native heritage as well as honouring tribal rituals and sacred spirits of people." Provides links to locations in BC where totem poles can be seen such as the Capilano Suspension Bridge (right). and also links to First Nations tour operators. Includes an essay on the well known Kwakwaka'wakw carver Bill Henderson by Christine Scott: Totem Legend. From Shangaan Webservices.


Capilano totems, Vancouver, BC.
Photo: Karen Wonders


Calvin Hunt Totem Poles

A commercial website. Features a gallery and workshop owned by Calvin Hunt, Kwakiutl Chief Tlasutiwalis of Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) and hereditary chief Na - soom - yees, Mowochaht from Friendly Cove. "The 'Northwest Coast Kwakiutl Indian' totem pole communicates a family's history by bearing the crests they own." Includes photos of totem poles carved by Calvin Hunt such as the memorial pole for his father, Chief Thomas Hunt (right). When it was raised at the burial grounds in Tsaxis in 1988, it was the first totem pole to be raised in the Kwakiutl village in 70 years.

Traditional monumental carvings included "House Posts - poles which supported the main beam inside of a house; House Frontal Poles - poles which stood against the front of the house; Memorial Poles - in honor of a loved one who has passed away, which is placed in front of the owner’s house; Grave Markers - poles placed where a person is buried; Welcome Figures - which are figures with arms outstretched, welcoming visitors." From the Kwakiutl Art of the Copper Maker Gallery. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


"Chief Thomas Hunt's Memorial Totem Pole."
Photo: Calvin Hunt


Canadian Museum of Civilization

An educational website. Features the totem poles and traditional houses in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Six reconstructed First Nations housefronts represent six Northwest Coast indigenous peoples: Tsimshian, Haida, Nuxalk, Central Coast, Nuu Chah Nulth and Coast Salish. The website is interactive and focuses on both traditional culture and contemporary issues.

"The term totem pole is recent, and has come to be used to refer to carvings which had different terms and functions in their original settings. For example, there were house posts holding up the interior beams of houses, house frontal poles which also served as the doorway of the house, grave monuments and memorial columns." Presents five poles and posts, some of them are the original preserved carvings and others are replicas: Standing on the Beach Pole; Cape Mudge House Posts; Sisiutl House Posts; Howkan Pole; Gambalch Pole. See: Poles Along the Windows. Available in French. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Hull, Quebec


Carving at Skidegate

An educational website. One page is a photo essay on the Hlknul'llnagaay (Cumshewa) totem pole carved at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, by Guujaaw, Gwaii Edenshaw and Wayne Edenshaw. A gallery shows the carving process from raw log to finished pole. "There are three main figures on the pole - the bottom figure is a bear, the middle a killer whale, and the top is a thunderbird. Between the bear's legs is a bear cub, in the whale's mouth is a seal, and a frog sits atop the thunderbird." The pole was raised at Skidegate (right) in 2001. From SpruceRoots.


Cumshewa Pole, Skidegate, 2001.
Photo: Skidegate Band Council


Carving Totem Pole under Tim Paul

A personal website. One gallery page documents the carving of two 25 to 27 foot totem poles by the well known international Hesquiaht carver Tim Paul with the assistance of several Tseshaht members (right). From the left: Willard Gallic Jr., Tobias Watts, Gordon Dick and Tim Paul. Both tribes are members of the Nuu chah nulth Tribal Council and are located on the westcoast of Vancouver Island. The poles were commissioned for display on the Tseshaht Indian Reserve at the Tempo Gas station, on the Pacific Rim Highway in Port Alberni which continues west to Tofino. They were officially raised on 29 June 2006. From Gordon Dick.


Tseshaht carvers and Tim Paul (left), 2006.
Photo: anon


Discover Totems

A personal website. An ecclectic presentation of many aspects of totem poles, from Totem Kids to False Totems. One useful page documents the location of totem poles in Vancouver, such as a traditional Nuu chah nulth welcome figure "Snauq" located "almost beneath the Burrard Bridge on the seawall going towards Fisherman's Wharf" (right). Another is an historic totem pole located at Canada Place. It was commissioned by Chief Sisaxo'las of Kingcome Inlet to tell the story of his mythological and noble ancestor, Siwid and carved c. 1910 by the influential Kwakiutl artist Charlie James (1867 - 1938). From D. Mueller.


Welcome pole, Vancouver.
Photo: D. Mueller


Drawing Connections

An educational website. Essay by Ian Lordon on the Haida Cultural Centre at Qay'llnagaay on Haida Gwaii with galleries of the six totem poles carved in 2000. Describes the Haida architectural project "to preserve, celebrate, and nourish Haida culture than by raising half a dozen Haida monuments." Finding the logs for the poles was difficult: We were asking for a minimum of 40 to 50 feet . . . which means old growth red cedar - a vanishing cultural resource on Haida Gwaii. The poles and their carvers are: Ts'aahl Pole by Garner Moody; K'uuna (Skedans) Pole by Jim Hart; Sgaang Gwaii Pole by Tim Boyko; T'aanuu Pole by Giitsxaa; Skidegate Pole by Norman Price; and Cumshewa Pole by Guujaaw. From SpruceRoots - Gowgaia Institute.


Carvers of poles at Qay'llnagaay.
Photo: SpruceRoots


Duncan Totem Tours

A commercial website. One page is on the totem poles located in Duncan, a small city of 5,000 in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in BC. Before it was clearcut logged, the Cowichan Valley had been home to some of the biggest trees in the world. Ironically, today Duncan promotes itself as the "City of Totems" and has commissioned some 40 totem poles for public display: "The ancient art of totem carving has been handed down through generations as a way of preserving the history of local native heritage as well as honoring tribal rituals and sacred spirits."

The webpage includes photos and a map of "Duncan's Totem Tour." Featured on the tour is the world's largest pole - measuring 6.7 feet in diameter - called "Cedarman" (right). It was carved in 1987 by Kwakiutl carver Richard Hunt (b. 1951). External link: Richard Hunt. The City of Totems became notorious when it imposed a "Totem Toll" in August 2007 to profit from photos taken by tourists of the totem poles. Local officials imposed a "Totem Copyright Policy" by which "the use of the totem images in any form requires approval from the City of Duncan." From the City of Duncan.


Totem pole by Richard Hunt, 2007.
Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC


Emily Carr

An educational website. The definitive virtual exhibit on the Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871 - 1945) organized in 2006 by the Vancouver Art Gallery in BC. Is richly illustrated and includes much biographical information, interpretation and useful educational resources. Presented in chronological chapters: A Biographical Sketch; Early Work; France; Early Totems; Arts and Crafts; Modernism and Late Totems; The Landscape; and Final Period. Other subjects are: Artistic Context; Technical Practices; Legacy and Influence; Literary Carr; Chronology; Exhibition History; and Bibliography. Available in French. From the Vancouver Art Gallery.


"Cumshewa," Emily Carr, 1912.
National Gallery of Canada


First Nations Longhouse

An educational website. Information of the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columiba. See the traditional house posts "in situ" in a virtual reality tour of the Great Hall: Sty Wet Tan. In the Salish Hun'q'umin'um language, "Sty Wet Tan" means the spirit of the west wind which welcomes people from the four directions. Four house posts and two supporting roof beams were carved for the Great Hall by Coast Salish artist Susan Point; Haisla artist Lyle Wilson; Gitksan artists Chief Walter Harris and his son Rodney; Tahltan, Tlingit and Nisga'a artist Ken McNeil; Tahltan, Tlingit and Tsimshian artist Stan Bevan; and Haida and Metis artist Don Yeoman.

"These posts would visually demonstrate our respect for Elders and ancestors whose strength, manifested through these posts, holds up the house and our cultures." The house post by Lyle Wilson is carved from an ancient yellow cedar tree (right), a species that has been logged to near extinction for commercial wood products. Wilson was most influenced by his uncle, the Haisla carver Sam Robinson. From the University of British Columbia.


House post by Haisla carver Lyle Wilson.
UBC Museum of Anthropology


First Nations Totem Poles

An educational website. One page presents an archival project called "Time Machine" to provide better access to historical documents and photos. Includes remarkable totem pole photos such as the two Thunderbird poles at 'Yalis which belonged to 'Namgis Chief Tlah - Co - Glass (right).

"In 1884 when the federal government outlawed potlatching it became increasingly rare for new poles to be carved. During the early part of this century many of the remaining poles were removed from their sites by collectors who sold the poles and other art works to museums around the world. During the 1950s however, there was renewed interest in carving the poles and a new generation of First Nations artists began to create these monuments again. Today the art of the Northwest Coast peoples is flourishing and is renowned throughout the world." Available in French. From the British Columbia Archives.

'Namgis Chief Wakus was the owner of the first big house to be built in 'Yalis in 1894 (right). Fronting the house was a totem pole - two stories high - carved from a single cedar tree (right). At the base was Raven whose protruding beak opened, serving as a ceremonial portal to the house. Later the carved Raven figure was completed in a painting across the facade of the house which represented the history of the Wakas Family. The famed Wakus House appeared in the 1914 photo by Edward Curtis: Nimpkish Village at Alert Bay. In 1936, the Wakas Pole was moved to Vancouver for display at Stanley Park. In 1987 the Canadian Museum of Civilization purchased the Wakas Pole. See: Wakus House.


'Yalis (Alert Bay), 1900.
Photo: BC Archives

'Yalis (Alert Bay), 1900.
Photo: BC Archives


First Nations Veterans Pole

An educational website. Includes a gallery that documents the carving of a totem pole commissioned by the Tillicum and Veterans Care Society in Victoria to honour First Nations war veterans (right). "During the First World War, at least 4,000 Canadian Aboriginal people volunteered to join the Allied forces in European battlefields. More than 3,000 served during the Second World War. . On each occasion, Canada's Aboriginal soldiers overcame cultural challenges and made many sacrifices and contributions to help the nation in its efforts to restore world peace. It was an incredible response consistent with a remarkable tradition." Completed in 2003, the 18 foot high "Veterans Pole" was carved by Kwakiutl artists Calvin Hunt, Mervyn Child and John Livingstone. From Tillicum and Veterans Care Society Lodge.


Veteran's Totem Pole, Victoria.
Photo: Veterans Care Society


Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art

An educational website. Presents a new college program that includes totem pole carving. Included is a gallery of student artwork. "On February 17, 2006 Northwest Community College announced the launch of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art. The first of its kind in the world, the School focuses on First Nations art of the Pacific Northwest with a mission to continue the legacy of Freda Diesing, a remarkable artist and teacher who helped revive Northwest Coast art and worked selflessly in passing on knowledge of the art form to others." The portrait mask by Diesling of a woman wearing a labret is based on a traditional Haida design (right). Instructors include the well known First Nations carvers: Dempsey Bob; Stan Bevan; and Ken McNeil. External link to a Northword essay on the new program: Art & Soul. From Northwest Community College.


Haida mask by Freda Diesling.
Royal BC Museum


Gitwangak Battle Hill

A governmental website. One page is on the Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic Site on the Skeena River in BC. Presents the history of an indigenous fort that was destroyed in the early 1800's as the Gitwangak people fought to defend their fishing sites and trade routes from encroaching clans. "The Gitwangak people moved to Gitwangak Village, located 6 km to the south on the banks of the Skeena River. At some point the fort burned to the ground. The totems of Gitwangak, located in this newer village, display crests relating 'Nekt's original flight from Haida Gwaii, his exploits as a warrior, and his occupation of Battle Hill. This pole [right] depicts 'Nekt as an infant escaping from Haida Gwaii in a canoe with his mother and the severed head of his father." Although the poles have been moved several times, they represent the oldest collection to be found in their original village context. Available in French. From Parks Canada.


Totem pole at Gitwangak.
Photo: Richard Inglis


Gitxsan Walter Harris

A commercial website. Markets the carving of Walter Harris (Chief Geel), Chuck Heit and Dustin Heit. One page is devoted to the hereditary Gitxsan chief and carver Walter Harris. Together with Gitxsan Earl Munroe, he carved the totem poles located outside Vancouver Airport (right). Harris was one of the founders of the 'Ksan Heritage Village: "K'san was created to counter the damage dun by 100 years of brutal colonial assimilation. Throughout the 19th century the west coast of Canada had been ransacked by collectors and museums from around the world. They robbed graves and homes and dead bodies for anything and everything. Very few traditional objects remained in Indian possession."

In 1972 Chief Geel raised a totem pole at Kispiox. "Every Gitxsan family 'owns' land and has the duty to use and share their lands. The Chiefs and their people must also protect that land, and the land of their neighbors. . . Totem poles are like an umbilical cord to the land. Histories of the families and their lands is what is shown on Gitxsan totem poles." In 1977 the Gitxsan Walter Harris and Earl Muldoe initiated an important land claim title case. External link: Delgamuukw. From Gitxsan carver Chuck Heit. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Gitxsan poles by Earl Muldoe.
Vancouver International Airport


Haida: Children of Eagle and Raven

An educational website. A virtual exhibition based on the 1996 book Haida Art by George F. MacDonald, director of the Museum of Civilization from 1983 to 2001. There are three parts: The Land and the People; Haida People; and Haida Villages. Includes maps, illustrations, descriptions and archival photos of Haida villages. "The oldest carved poles are undoubtedly shaman grave posts, some of which are late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They portray primarily human figures, whereas the monumental poles standing in the villages display crests and supernatural beings from mythology." Gordon Miller's painting (right) is based on archival photos of Skidegate c. 1860. Available in French. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Painting by Gordon Miller. (Click to enlarge)
Museum of Civilzation


Haida Designs - Totem Poles

A commercial website. Markets work by Stephany Pryce, a Haida artist who creates traditional fabric designs (right). One page is on totem poles: "Just when the people were regaining their identities, the missionaries moved in and convinced the people to give up their old beliefs and traditions. Totem poles were burned for firewood and the children were placed in boarding schools, without their families. They were not to speak their own language and disciplined if they disobeyed. Regardless of all of the upheaval, the Haida's have endured; they have persevered and learned to survive in the modern world." From Haida Designs. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Haida designer Stepany Pryce.
Photo: Haida Designs


Haida Heritage Centre

An educational website.  Presents the monumental Haida complex built in cedar overlooking the sea at QAY'LLNAGAAY (Sea Lion Town) on Haida Gwaii. Contemporary longhouses and five replica longhouses represent ancient Haida villages. On the right is the SGANG GWAAY Pole by Tim Boyko. The Haida Heritage Centre opened in 2007: "It has long been a Haida dream to share the islands' cultural diversity, rich natural heritage and history with the rest of the world . . The feeling is of a traditional Haida seaside village. This is a celebration of the living culture of the Haida people – QAY'LLNAGAAY is a place for the Haida voice to be heard. This Heritage Centre is our gift to the world."

The Haida Heritage Centre includes the Haida Gwaii Museum which displays historic totem poles from Tanu and Skedans as well as Haida works of art by Bill Reid, Charles Edenshaw, Tom Price, Gordon Cross, Giitsxaa, Robert Davidson, Christian White and others. From the Haida Heritage Centre. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Haida Heritage Centre, 2007.


Haida House Models

An educational website. One page presents an exhibit on a miniature form of Haida sculptural art. The model of Grizzly Bear's Mouth House was acquired c. 1900 at Skidegate on Haida Gwaii for the Lord Bossom collection (right). It was "one of the most unusual buildings in Skidegate, was made about 1890 by John Robson (a later Chief Giatlins), a leading Skidegate carver who inherited the house. It coincides closely with a photo of the house taken in 1878. The house was a six beam structure in which the decoration was both carved and painted onto the thick vertical planks that were inserted into the gables of the housefront. The housefront was sculpted as well as painted, particularly the snout of the Bear, which protruded out quite a way from the painted portion. Two oval doorways were positioned at the corners of the Bear's mouth. The Eagles on the corner posts are crests that belonged to the owner's wife."

"Following the tragic depopulation of the late 1860s due to epidemics, and deculturation in the 1870s and 1880s, the monumental sculptural tradition was abandoned. Carvers miniaturized their production into models of houses and poles, tailoring their art to the tourist market. House models were a favourite souvenir of early tourists, and Haida carvers embellished them with every conceivable decoration." The Haida artist George Dickson carved the model (right) in cedar for exhibition at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He based the model on the full sized traditional family house in Skidegate that was owned by his great grandfather. Today this model is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Related link: House of Contentment. Available in French. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Grizzly Bear's Mouth House model.
Photo: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Haida House of Contentment model.
Photo: Brooklyn Museum


Haida Iltl'hlaangaay

An educational website. Part of the exhibit "Our World - Our Way of Life" which is divided into two parts, one on the Haida aboriginal community of Haida Gwaii; the other on the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. The exhibit was created for an interactive kiosk in the Canada Pavilion at Expo2000 in Hannover, Germany. Haida member Lucille Bell was project coordinator for the Old Massett Village Council, Gwaii Trust Society and the Haida Gwaii Museum at Qay’llnagaay. Non native participants were the Canadian Museum of Nature, the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, and the Canadian Heritage Information Network. External link on the website: Our World - Our Way of Life.

The website presents an introduction to the homeland to the Haida people: "Within this tremendously wealthy natural environment, a complex and sophisticated society was developed over thousands and thousands of years." Archival photos of Haida totem poles are used to show the importance of the cedar tree to Haida art and culture.

As part of the Expo2000 Canada Pavillion in Hannover, Haida carver Reg Davidson was commissioned to create the totem pole called "Migration Home" (right) which is also pictured in the website. Available in French and German. From the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.


"Migration Home Pole" by Reg Davideson.
Photo: Government of Canada


Haida Spirits of the Sea

An educational website. This online exhibition was created for the Canada Pavilion at Expo 98 in Lisbon, Portugal. The Expo theme was "oceans as a heritage for the future." The exhibit was co curated by Haida members Lucille Bell at Old Massett Village Council and Nathalie Macfarlane of the Haida Gwaii Museum. The aim was to let the Haida people speak for themselves, especially as the exhibit was also intended as a recognition of the United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995 - 2004). One webpage features the totem poles at SGANG GWAAY as a part of living Haida culture (right). The history of the site and its designation as a World Heritage Site are described as well as the conservation and restoration of the poles:

"The history of Gwaii Haanas provides a model of a respectful relationship between human beings and the earth, a place where people can now learn about a way of life where humans are a part of nature, and where they can experience Haida culture and respect sacred and spiritual values. Sensitive cultural features are fragile evidence of thousands of years of habitation. Traditional activities continue to take place here as part of the living and evolving culture of the Haida" Skung Gwaii. Some conservation is done on the in situ poles, but once they fall to the ground, they are not further restored (far right).

Another exhibit section presents the art of carving Haida totem poles and how these are raised in association with potlatch ceremonies. One example is the totem pole by Haida carver Reg Davidson (right) that was raised in 1991 at Old Massett: Poles and Potlatches.

A Haida childrens book on a totem pole created at the ancient village of Yan is presented: The First Totem Pole. It is written by Rosa Bell, illustrated by artist Christian White and translated into Haida by Mary Swanson (right). Photographs of the carving of a contemporary totem pole at Yan by Haida artist Jim Hart accompany the presentation. Available in French, Spanish and Portugese. From the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.


Haida Gwaii

Old Massett and SGANG GWAAY.
Photo: Haida Spirits of the Sea

"The First Totem Pole."
Illustration by Christian White


Haisla G'psgolox Pole

An educational website. One webpage presents the story of the Haisla G'psgolox Pole. The totem pole was originally commissioned in 1872 by Haisla Chief G'psgolox to commemorate his many family members who had died of small pox. For many decades the G'psgolox Pole stood at Misk'usa, a traditional Haisla village located in the Kitilope Valley. Then suddenly in 1927 it was removed by the Norwegian Ivor Fougner, who was the Indian Agent at at the Nuxalk village of Bella Coola, and sent to the Museum of Ethnology in Stockholm.

When the Haisla finally located the mortuary pole in 1991, the they initiated a repatriation process. The totem pole was the subject of a 2003 documentary film by Gil Cardinel, entitled "Totem." Finally in 2006 the G'psgolox Pole was returned to the Haisla, arriving in Kitamaat Village on 30 June. "The return of the G'psgolox totem pole is definitely a catalyst for cultural revival and renewal; as our children and future generations will be able to see, touch and feel a piece of our history, and our culture, reclaimed by a nation who persevered against all odds." From the Na Na Kila Institute. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


G'psgolox Pole, Kitamaat, 1921.
Photo: BC Archives


No longer online. A personal site. One page is devoted to the ancient origins of the people who carve Northwest Coast totem poles: "Totem poles from Hawaii and from the Canadian Pacific coast show some pretty amazing similarities. Of course, one can assume that these similarities were even greater about 1000 years ago or so, when these peoples seem to have been in contact with each other, and travelling across all those thousands of miles across the Pacific." From Yuri Kuchinsky.

The theory of cultural interchange between Polynesia and the Northwest Coast was early expounded by the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, who visited Bella Coola in the late 1930s where he elaborated his belief that Polynesians had first come there from Southeast Asia before sailing westward across the Pacific: "All the early explorers pointed out the similarities between the people of New Zealand and the people of British Columbia. The physical types. The similarity in the canoes. The similarity of the maori (statues) and the Northwest totem poles." An example of the extraordinary cedar poles created by the indigenous inhabitants of Bella Coola is shown in the photo (right).


Totem pole at Bella Coola, c. 1890.
Photo: BC Archives


No longer online. A governmental website. One page is on a totem pole called the "Heart of Canada Totem Pole" that was sponsored by the Canadian Forest Service (right). The 9.14 meter totem pole was carved by the Haida artist Reg Davidson and the 539 year old red cedar tree came from the forests of Haida Gwaii. The totem pole was toured across Canada so that all Canadians could take part in painting it. Ironically, it was planned as the centerpiece of the 2003 World Forestry Congress exhibit in Quebec. Canada celebrates the art of totem poles yet continues to allow the global forest industry to exterminate its ancient cedar trees for commercial wood products thereby destroying the basis of Northwest Coast art. Available in French. From Natural Resources Canada.


"Heart of Canada Pole," 2003.
Photo: Natural Resources Canada


Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

A governmental website. An internet gateway described as "a decentralized organization which responds to the varying needs of a culturally, economically and geographically diverse clientele. . . and fulfils the lawful obligations of the federal government to Aboriginal peoples arising from treaties, the Indian Act and other legislation." Includes the Indian Art Centre which is intended to ensure "the preservation, development and promotion of Canadian Indian or First Nations art." A search under the keyword "totem pole" results in over one hundred hits. One example: Stories the Totems Tell: Bringing Aboriginal Poles to Life. From the Department of Indian Affairs.


Carving studio at 'Yalis.
Photo: 'Namgis First Nation


Kispiox Totem Poles

A commercial website. An indigenous tourism company presents the cultural heritage of the Kispiox Valley including its legendary totem poles (right). "Kispiox is an ancient village that lies within Gitxsan Territory, at the junction of the Kispiox and Skeena Rivers in Northwestern BC. There are approximately 25 Hereditary Poles that belong to different House Groups. . . Our community is comprised of three main House Groups, they are Giskaast, Lax Gibuu and Lax Seel. It was inhabited by two clans, the Raven and the Bear. Each pole signifies the adaawk or crest of each House Group. Some date as far back as 1880 and as recent as 1995." Available also in German. From Skeena Eco Expeditions. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Kispiox totem poles.
Photo: Flickr


"Walter Harris was born in 1931 in the northern BC village of Kispiox. It was one of the last of the Gitxsan villages to feel the cultural oppression resulting from the anti potlatch laws imposed by the Canadian Government in the 1920s. Totem poles continued to be erected in Kispiox throughout the period of the Great Depression and the Second World War and the Gitxsan language was spoken despite the pressure of residential schools to eliminate it."

"The totem poles that stood like sentinels at the centre of each Gitxsan village carried images of the encounters of the ancestors with the powerful spirits of the land. Figures of humans and animals were carved into the living trees as boundary markers. . . From his earliest childhood Walter Harris and his young friends played among the mostly fallen poles of Kispiox village. In the early seventies Harris, assisted by other 'Ksan carvers, raised the first traditional pole in modern times. He used his family crest of 'Obsidian Nose' (the progenitor of all mosquitoes) as the main figure at the base. Several years later, he designed another totem pole at Kispiox with the figure of the weeping woman at the base, to honour another village chief, Mary Johnston [right]." Walter Harris (George F. MacDonald).


Pole by Walter Harris, Kispiox.
Photo: Flickr


Kitselas Totem Poles

A governmental website. One page is a photo gallery called "Two Totem Poles Three Designs" which features the raising on 10 August 2007 of two totem poles at the Kitselas Canyon Historic Site (right) and their public unveiling the next day. The Eagle, Raven and Killerwhale designs were by Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and four assistants. A Grizzly Bear Pole and a Beaver Pole were also raised. The Poles were blessed by Elders Susan McKee and Lila Mason and a presentation was given by Stephanie Forsythe, President of the Northwest Community College in Terrace. An Honour Dance by Haida Tom Samuals was performed and after the ceremonies, a salmon barbeque was held.

One page describes how totem pole carving is an art tradition integral to the revival of Tsimshian cultural heritage: Art Making Tradition. It provides a summary of the mythology of Gitselasu totem poles:"In Tsimshian culture, a story is told in oral form, in written form from crests, and from symbols such as totem poles or other artworks that effectively reflect on traditional Tsimshian lifestyles and culture. The stories posted here focus on some of the clan histories, or adaawak, of the high ranking families who owned the houses, poles and the surrounding territories of Gitlaxdzawk." Presents a gallery of carvings by the well known artists Dempsey Bob and Stan Bevan (right). A totem pole called Kulspai was commissioned by the government for the BC Pavillion at Expo 92 in Spain and the following year was returned to the Kitselas community.

Outlines the Kitselas Canyon National Historic Site Project which includes totem poles. "Kitselas is one of seven Tsimshian First Nations communities. Archaeological research indicate that the Kitselas Canyon was occupied by the Tsimshian Nation for at least 10,000 years. . . This Project is designed to re establish a Kitselas Village as a basis for a cultural tourism initiative. It will add to the aboriginal component of the regional economy in forestry, fishing, service and tourism that can be shared equitably among aboriginal and non aboriginal residents in the Terrace region." From Kitselas First Nation. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Kitselas pole raising, 11 August 2007.
Photo: Morris Mason

Carvers and designers, Kitselas.
Photo: Morris Mason

Stan Bevan carving the Bear Pole.
Photo: Kitselas First Nation


Kitsumkalum Su-Sit'aatk

A governmental website. "The Kitsumkalum are members of the Tsimshian Nation in Northwest BC with traditional territory and property rights along the Skeena River. Historically many of the most spectacular totem poles in BC were located here but for about 150 years no poles had been raised here. This changed in 1987 when two crest poles were raised during a traditional potlatch ceremony and the installation of a high ranking chief. This event marked a new beginning for the people of Kitsumkalum."

The two poles were carved by the Haida artist Freda Diesing with assistance from a Kitsumkalum team including Norman Guno, Dorothy and Norman Horner, Myrtle Laidlaw and Sandra Wesley. One pole was carved in a modern style and represented the community and its future, while the other was a replica of an older pole with ancient family crests and represented respect for the past. According to Chief Cliff Bolton, the totem poles were "his generation's way of telling the children that the next generation will have to be prepared to fight for the survival of their culture." External link: Su-Sit'aatk (James MacDonald). From Kitsumkalum First Nation. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Pole raising, Kitsumkalum, 1987.
Photo: Kitsumkalum First Nation

Tsimshian bighouse and totem pole.
F. Boas, Tsimshian Mythology, 1916


No longer online. A personal website. One page is a gallery of photos taken of the totem poles in three First Nations villages located on the Skeena River in northern British Columbia. From Richard Huseth.

A 1980 photo of the totem poles at Kitwanga shows the still standing government plaque erected in 1967 to promote the site as a tourist destination (right). Under the heading "Totem Poles" the plaque provides this definition: "These stately monuments in cedar proclaim the owner's clan status and inherited family traditions, but were never associated with religion. Clan crests protrayed mythical creatures, sometimes in human form, from the legendary history of the clan. As a unique primitive art form, the poles are fitting examples of the artistic talents of these native people."


Totem poles at Kitwanga, 1980.
Photo: BC Archives


‘Ksan Historical Village Totem Poles

An educational website. Presents the reconstructed ancient village of the Gitanmaax (People of the Place of Fishing Torches) at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers near Hazelton, BC. "For centuries and possibly millennia, Gitxsan’s have maintained communities at important canyons and junctions on the Skeena River. This location was an important fishing site and transportation hub." Includes photos of historical artifacts, the seven Houses of 'Ksan and Gitxsan culture and way of life. "Gitxsan communities are located primarily on the Skeena River and its tributaries above Kitselas Canyon. Presently there are six Gitxsan communities: Gitwangak, Gitanyow, Gitsegukla, Gitanmaax, Kispiox and Glen Vowell."

Totem poles with figures from Gitxsan clans and legends can be seen at the Wolf Crest House and the prehistoric Frog Crest House.'Ksan is the home of the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Art which has produced artists of international fame. From the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


'Ksan Historical Village.
Photo: Richard Huseth


Looking Out - Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

A commercial website. Markets the work of Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. One page presents illustrations of totem poles for the ongoing project "Looking Out." The watercolour "Looking Out #5" is dated 19 June 2006 (right). Note by the artist: "This piece is based on the interior pole in the Yahgulanaas Lineage principle house in Klinkwaan Alaska. Two young Yaghjaanaas were rescued by their Uncles from the plagues that swept through the town of Jaalun River, Haida Gwaii. They spent years living in the sanctuary offered by this house. The girls would later become the great grandmothers for all of Charles Edenshaw's children including notables such as the Edenso Edenshaw Chiefs (Morris White, Jim Hart) and artists such as Robert Davidson, Christian White, Isabella Rorick, Merle Anderson, Lisa Hageman (emerging weaver), myself and many many more Haidas. This pole was the doorway into the Nangitlagadaas' sleeping chambers." From Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


"Looking Out #5," 2006.
Watercolour by M. N. Yahgulanaas