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Totem Pole Websites

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Canadian Totem Pole Websites II

Mungo Martin Totem Pole

A governmental website. Features the restoration of a totem pole located in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC and its resurrection in 2001 (right). The original pole was carved in 1955 by noted Kwakiutl artist Chief Mungo Martin (1881 - 1962), assisted by his son David Martin and Henry Hunt. According to the newspaper, "The idea was to recruit those famed Indian carvers . . . and rear up in Beacon Hill Park . . . a mighty totem . . . visible by sea, land and air . . . an inspiring landmark of our city." Intended as a tourist attraction, "the world's tallest history book," the totem pole was commissioned by the City of Victoria, but paid for with private donations. From the City of Victoria.


Chief Mungo Martin carved "The World's Tallest History Book" Totem Pole in 1955 from a gigantic 50 m tall cedar tree that had been felled near Muir Creek in Sooke and towed by tugboat to Victoria. The pole was 38.8 m high (for scale note figures). It was dedicated on 30 June 1956 by the 76 year old Kwakiutl Chief and carver who gave a speech in his native Kwakwala language.


'Namgis Burial Grounds Totem Poles

A governmental website. One webpage, no longer online, was a virtual panorama of the totem poles at the 'Namgis Burial Grounds located in the native village of 'Yalis (colonial name is Alert Bay) on Cormorant Island off the coast of Vancouver Island. A sign can be seen which warns visitors "No trespassing is allowed here." The 'Namgis are a Kwakwaka'wakw tribe who have occupied their homeland for thousands of years before colonization. In the late 19th century missionaries influenced the 'Namgis people to give up their traditional practice of lashing coffins to the branches of large trees, to be replaced with burial grounds. A totem pole carved in 1970 by Henry and Tony Hunt as a memorial for the master Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin (1872 - 1962) was the first totem raised in 'Yalis in 40 years. From: 'Namgis First Nation. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


'Namgis Burial Grounds, 'Yalis.
Photo: anon


No longer online. A governmental website. Presents the raising and blessing rituals of a totem pole called "Nisga'a Hli Luugadin' K'aliiaksim Lisims" (People of the Nass River) in 2002 at the Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria (right). The twelve metre pole was commissioned to mark the 250th anniversary of the world's oldest zoo. It was carved from a 500 year old cedar tree by the well known Nisga'a artist Alver Tait: Simoogit Gadeelip. Joseph Gosnell, president of the Nisga'a Nation, attended the ceremony. Members of the Austrian army, Viennese police and fire departments assisted in raising the totem pole. Available in French. From Foreign Affairs Canada.


Pole raising, Vienna, Austria, 2002.
Photo: Nisga'a Nation


Nuxalk Totem Tour in Germany

An educational website. One page is on a totem pole tour ("Manakays") in Germany in 1999 by members of the indigenous Nuxalk Nation from Bella Coola on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. A totem pole was carved during a tour of 16 cities in Germany. ISTA was named after a Nuxalk place of origin where Nuxalk elders and activists had taken a courageous stand in 1995 to prevent the clearcut logging of the ancient forest by Interfor, the international wood products corporation. One of the leaders at ISTA was hereditary Chief Qwatsinas who took part in the tour and lectured about the Nuxalk. While in Berlin, he visited the historic Nuxalk totem pole at the "Tiergarten" (right).

The ISTA totem pole was carved by Nuxalk members Tla'kuulth (Harry Schooner) and Suncwmay (Richard Schooner). Suncwmay is a direct descendant of a Nuxalk man who toured Germany with a remarkable group of nine Nuxalk for nine months in 1895 and 1896. Following its 1999 German tour, ISTA was raised on the pier outside the Greenpeace Germany headquarters in Hamburg as a reminder of the need to protect the ancient temperate rainforests of Canada. From: Nuxalk House of Smayusta. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Nuxalk Qwatsinas, Berlin, 1999.
Photo: Lydia Bartz


People Amongst the People

A governmental website. The Public Art Registry presents the 2008 sculptural work "People Amongst the People" by Coast Salish Musequeum artist Susan Point (right). "These three beautifully carved red cedar portals are constructed to represent the traditional slant-roof style of Coast Salish architecture with carved welcome figures in the doorways. They are intended as a gesture of welcome to the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people of the area. The artworks reflect the history of these aboriginal people as well as the modern culture that still thrives." A statement by the artist explaining the three main Coast Salish design elements of the work is presented. These are Male and Female Welcome Figures; Grandparents and Grandchildren Honoured; and Salish Dancer and Killer Whale. From the City of Vancouver.


Salish carving by Susan Point, 2007.
Photo: City of Vancouver


Potlatch Longhouse

A personal website. Includes a page on the history of Haida house posts in traditional longhouses, also called bighouses. The information and images are taken from the authoritative website of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. A more original page is a proposal for a project based on a longhouse design: Burning Man 2007. From Jason Carswell.

An engraving of the Haida Monster House at Old Masset was done in Germany from a photo taken in 1873 (right). It was published in the 1881 travel narrative of J. Adrian Jacobsen, one of the first popular accounts of the indigenous people of Haida Gwaii (then called the Queen Charlotte Islands).


Haida Monster House, 1881.
Engraving, J. Adrian Jacobsen


Prince Rupert Totem Poles

A commercial website. One page is a photo gallery of totem poles located at outdoor sites in the Northwest Coast port town of Prince Rupert including the Civic Centre, the City Hall and the Totem Park. From North Pacific Seaplanes.

Prince Rupert was an important centre for indigenous people of the Tsimshian Nation long before European contact; its inner harbour at the mouth of the Skeena River was said to have been the most densely populated area north of Mexico. It was surveyed by the British in the 1870s but not incorporated as a town until 1910 when settlers named it for the son of England's Queen Elizabeth and Frederick of Bohemia. In the 1920s the Canadian Government and Canadian National Railways jointly undertook to preserve the totem poles on the Skeena River in their original location to serve as a tourist attraction for railway travellers.

In the 1930s a Totem Pole Park was founded in Prince Rupert by bringing over from Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) some of the most magnificent poles. Since then, many of these totem poles have been removed and replaced with replicas or new carvings (right). Regrettably the unique totem pole heritage of Prince Rupert has been neglected in recent years perhaps due to its huge new development as a major Northwest Coast industrial port.


Totem poles in Prince Rupert.
Tsimshian Nation Territory


Pt'saan Jabim - Totem Pole Project

An educational website. Chronicles a totem pole project in northern British Columbia by students in the ancient Nisga'a village of Gingolx. External link: Gingolx. Under the direction of Nisga'a carver Sim'oogit Hlayim Wil (Chief Chester Moore), the Gingolx students prepared, blessed, carved and raised a totem pole called "Sayt Adoks Gingolx" - which means "all the tribal crests together in Gingolx" (right).

The pole raising ceremony was on 21 June 2001 and the website was launched in 2003. "There has to be a reason to carve a pole. Traditionally, poles were like books, recording and documenting history. This pole is no different. It tells stories of the four tribes in our Village - Eagle, Killer Whale, Frog, and Wolf. All of them are being carved on our pole. There is also a supernatural being that forms itself into the Grizzly Bear which is in the middle - it is a sub crest of the Killer Whale tribe." Presents videos of the carving process, an interactive guide to the pole figures and audios of their stories. Available in Nisga'a. From the Gingolx Cultural Society. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Sayt Adoks totem pole.
Photo: Yuichi Takasaka


Pts'aanhl Nisga'a

An educational website. Features a stimulating and informative interactive presentation of the totem poles that are standing today in four ancient indigenous villages in Nisga'a Territory in northern British Columbia and some of the historical Nisga'a totem poles on display in museums far away from their original location. Teacher resources include with interactive activities: Nisga'a Art Design; Stories; Carving Preparation; Carving Process; Totem Pole Timeline.

"There are many fine Nisga'a totem carvers from the early 1800s. Some of the Nisga'a carvers were imported by neighbouring Nations to carve totem poles for them. The first 60 ft. Unity Pole that was revived, carved and erected in 1977 stands in front of the high school at Gitlaxt'amiks. Since then there are a lot of young Nisga'as who are interested in reviving and carving replicas of the existing totem poles. This site introduces the new carvers who have been interviewed to tell about their creations." Included in the website presentation are four spectacular totem poles in front of the Nisga'a Lisims Government Building at Gitlakdamix (right).

"The totem poles of the Nisga'a Nation are carved to expose the history of every tribal clan, called wiln'aatahl, as well as to tell the story of a chief, called adaawak. The totem outlines stories of memorable adventures and unusual encounters with nature and supernatural beings."

"The Nisga'a totem poles stand tall to show the world who we are. Every figure on a Nisga'a totem pole has a different appearance and meaning. For instance, a carving of a bear prince shows the bears paws. A carving of an ordinary bear would not show the palms. A carving of a supernatural bear would show a human face in the bears eyes and human eyes in its palms." Available in the indigenous Nisga'a language. From the Gingolx Media Centre. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Pts'aanhl Nisga'a, 2007.
Graphic: Gingolx Media Centre

Nisga'a Lisims, Gitlakdamix, 2007.
Nisga'a Nation


No longer online. A governmental website. A webpage documenting a heritage project by the Qay'llnagaay Heritage Centre Society to preserve and celebrate Haida culture at Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Six monumental traditional Haida poles were raised in early June 2001: "This historic event marked the second phase of building the Haida Heritage Centre at Qay'llnagaay - Sea Lion Town. The first phase began with the Year 2000 project, 'Carving into the New Millenium,' that marked the beginning of the poles being carved by Haida master carvers and local apprentices."

The totem poles were designed to represent each of the main historic village sites of the southern Haida people - Skidegate, T'aanuu, SGaang Gwaii, Ts'aahl (Chaatl), K'uuna (Skedans) and Cumshewa. The totem poles and their carvers are: the Ts'aahl Pole by Garner Moody; the K'uuna Pole by Jim Hart; the Sgaang Gwaii Pole by Tim Boyko; the T'aanuu Pole by Giitsxaa; the Skidegate Pole by Norman Price; and the Cumshewa Pole by Guujaaw. The photo on the right shows how the Skidegate Pole was carried and carefully maneuvered into position prior to its raising to a vertical position. From: Skidegate Band Council. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Qay'llnaqaay Pole Raising, 2001.
Photo: Skidegate Band Council

Qay'llnaqaay Pole Raising, 2001.
Photo: Skidegate Band Council


Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre

A commercial website. One webpage describes the totem poles and sculpture exhibited at the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre in the town of Duncan on Vancouver Island. "The totem poles are the Quw'utsun' people's way of telling their stories visually. Whenever a village or family member was married or passed away the carvers would be asked to transform the story of the person into a totem design. Totems also depict the stories of Quw'utsun' ancestors. From the tale of the thunderbird and the killer whale to Dsunoqwa, Wild Woman of the Woods, the totems are a visual marker of the past." From the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre, Duncan.
Photo: Flickr


Raising Hope, Raising Poles

A commercial website. One page is an essay by the professional writer Shirley Collingridge of the raising of six Haida totem poles in June, 2001 at the Qay'llnagaay Heritage Centre on Haida Gwaii. Guujaaw, one of the carvers, and president of the Council of the Haida Nation, is quoted: "The poles are the crests of the people. It's about our relationship to the land. This is why when we see our forests being deliberately ripped apart and our seas being depleted, we stand up and say no!" From Wordsmith.


Haida chiefs, Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, 2001.
Photo: Council of the Haida Nation


Respect to Bill Reid Pole

An educational website. Documents the production of a totem pole commissioned to commemorate and honour Haida artist Bill Reid (1920 - 1998) at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver (right). "On October 1, 2000, the new pole was raised by hand at a celebration attended by more than 2,500 people. Speeches, songs, and dances were followed by a reception hosted by the Musqueam First Nation (on whose ancestral lands the Museum is built), the Museum, and the Haida people." Includes an interactive timeline of the totem pole project, beginning with the selection of the giant cedar through to its carving, blessing and raising. Video and audio clips of the ceremonies are included as well as a bibliography. Pages on several carvers are presented including: Jim Hart, Doug Cranmer, Oliver Bell, Paul White, Michael Nicoll, Nika Collison, and Ernie Collison. Available in French. From the Museum of Anthropology and the Virtual Museum of Canada.


Bill Reid Memorial Pole.
Museum of Anthropology, University of BC


Royal British Columbia Museum

An educational website. Presents the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria which owns a spectacular collection of totem poles. Many were collected in the early 20th century by the English settler and amateur ethnologist Charles Newcombe who facilitated the distribution of some of the finest specimens of totem poles from BC to museums around the world. Includes a valuable scholarly essay by ethnology curator Martha Black: Totem Poles. "Totem pole is a commonly used but deceptive term. These monumental carvings are not totems; they are concrete manifestations of the owner's family histories and rights." A relevant critique by Andrea Martin examines how the museum contributes to the sterotyping of BC's indigenous peoples. External link: Cultural Myth. From the Royal BC Museum Corporation.


Totem poles, Royal BC Museum.
Photo: Craig Zone


SGang Gwaay Totem Poles in Prince Rupert

No longer online. A commercial website. Describes how the Haida totem poles displayed in Prince Rupert illustrate changes in white perceptions about First Nations peoples. An informative page by an unknown author documents how four Haida totem poles were brought from SGang Gwaay to be publicly displayed in the port village of Prince Rupert in the late 1930s. Separated from each other in their new locations, the totem poles diverged in style as later carvers reinterpreted them during restoration work. Carver William Jeffrey, for example, added a seagull eagle to one pole. Brightly coloured paint was used not only to preserve the historic totem poles but to increase their tourism appeal. From the City of Prince Rupert.

In 1923 the "Grizzly Bear Totem Pole," which formerly stood in front of the house of Chief Albert Edward Edenshaw Sr. near Kiusta on Haida Gwaii, was brought to Prince Rupert. An early postcard (right) shows its enormous size in relation to a telephone pole and two people. It was said to be one of the finest and oldest in the old Haida style, possibly 110 years when it was erected in Prince Rupert as an advertisement of the local Board of Trade. In the 1930s, Prince Rupert, the Department of Indian Affairs and the Canadian National Railways selected 13 poles from the villages of Skidegate and Massett on Haida Gwaii for a new "Totem Pole Park" in Prince Rupert (far right).


Totem poles in Prince Rupert.
Photos: BC Archives

Silyas Gallery

A commercial website. Features the gallery and workshop owned by Silyas (Art Saunders), a Nuxalk carver who lives in Bella Coola, British Columbia. A totem pole Silyas finished in 2007 was carved on commission in Bella Coola and later sent to Leiden in the Netherlands (right). Includes a personal account of his journey as an artist and a biography. Some of the stories, dances, names and family crests associated with the carvings are described. On the Saunders family chieftainship totem pole: "The top of the pole is the Sun/Creator, the source of life at the beginning of time. The pole is held up at the bottom by the Chief's son, who represents the future. He holds a salmon, also a source of life." From Silyas. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Nuxalk carver Silyas, Bella Coola, 2007.
Photo: Skip Saunders


Skeena River Totem Poles

A personal website. Presents five documentary photo galleries on the impressive First Nations totem poles along the Skeena River in northern British Columbia. Skeena River (Xsi'yeen); Hazelton (Gitanmaax), Kitwanga (Gitwangak), Kitsegukla (Gitseguekla) and Kitwancool (Gitanyow). The photos are both landscapes that show the larger in situ setting of the totem poles and close up shots revealing in detail the incredible designs and skill of the carvers.

One group of totem poles is on the Kitwancool Reserve, home of the Gitanyow First Nation (right). "On first approach it is difficult to distinguish the totem poles from the electricity poles. They surround the new cultural centre situated on a high river bank. There is a small native cemetary to the east. If there were no totem poles this would be a typical Western Canada reserve." Apparently in 1930 there were more than a hundred standing Gitxsan poles in scattered groups, each in traditional tribal villages along the upper Skeena River. The photo galleries are arranged according to the Gitxsan communities in which the totem poles originate. These are: Gitanyow; Gitwangak; Gitsegukla; Hazeltons; and Kispiox. From Gregory Melle.


Gitanyow totem poles, 2007.
Photo: Gregory Melle


Skidegate Repatriation & Cultural Committee

An educational website. Documents the process with descriptions and photos by which the Haida have repatriated the remains of their ancestors and in addition heritage objects such as totem poles, from collections located around the world including: the American Museum of Natural History; British Museum; Canadian Museum of Civilization; Field Museum (Chicago); Oakland Museum of California; Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), Royal BC Museum; Simon Fraser University Department of Archaeology; National Museum of the American Indian; National Museum of Natural History; University of British Columbia; and University of Oregon Museum of Natural History. In 2000, a Haida delegation travelled to the Canadian Museum of Civilization to repatriate the remains 148 ancestors (right). The Museum has over 1,200 Haida objects including many magnificent totem poles. From the Haida Repatriation Committee. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Haida ceremony, Ottawa, 2004.
Skidegate Repatriation Committee


Spirit of Lekwammen Totem Pole

A commercial website. Markets the work by Tsimshian carver Bill Helin. One page documents the carving of the "world's tallest totem pole" in Victoria, BC. The 55 meter (180 feet) high pole called "Spirit of Lekwammen" was carved from an ancient 500 year old cedar tree. The project aimed at an entry in the Guinness World Records and took Bill Helin and eleven assistants almost four months to complete. It was raised at Songhees Point on 4 August 1994 to mark the opening of the Commonwealth Games. On 26 August 1997 the pole was reduced in size for safety reasons. From Bill Helin. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


"Spirit of Lekwammen" pole (detail).
Victoria, British Columbia


Stanley Park Totems

A commercial website. One page is a gallery of the eight totem poles located in Stanley Park in downtown Vancouver. Includes informative photos of the signage on the meaning of each pole, its history, how it was created and who the carver was. The introductory plaque (right) says: "The totem was the British Columbia Indian's 'Coat of Arms'." Includes a page on an ancient red cedar tree 40 meters high and with a circumference of 30 meters, the largest "totem tree" in the world: The National Geographic Tree. Believed to be almost 1,000 years old, it was the most famous tree in the park and was the subject of many photos, dating back to 1890. After a record storm in 2007, the venerable giant finally collapsed. From Maurice Jassak.


Indian Totem Poles, Stanley Park.
(Click to enlarge)


Susan A. Point

A commercial website. Presents the work by Coast Salish artist Susan A. Point (right). Her introduction states: "The task of my generation is to remember all that was taught, and pass that knowledge and wisdon onto our children." Point was born in Alert Bay on Vancouver Island and since birth has lived on the Musqueam First Nation Reservation in Vancouver. She began her art career in 1981 as a designer of traditional Coast Salish art forms and today is one of the leading carvers of monumental Northwest Coast sculpture. Site includes a "Public Works Portfoio" where photos of these sculptures can be seen.

Susan Point has been awarded numerous public art commissions, including building facades and large sculptures at the Vancouver International Airport. She was recently elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts and in 2004 she received Canada's prestigious National Aboriginal Achievement Award. Her monumental double sided round cedar sculpture, "The Beaver and the Mink" (right), is 7.5 feet high and tells the Salish legend of the origins of the salmon. It was commissioned by the Government of Canada, as a gift to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, to celebrate the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. From Susan Point. Note: this is a First Nations owned site.


Musqueum Susan Point, 2007.
Photo: City of Vancouver

Sculpture by Susan Point (front and back).
Photo: Thom Watson


Thunderbird Park

An educational website. Features the First Nations totem poles and bighouse that form the Thunderbird Park collections of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. Central to its history is the renowned Kwakiutl carver Chief Mungo Martin (1881 - 1962). Born in Tsaxis (Fort Rupert), he came to Victoria in 1952 to start a First Nations carving programme at the Park and to replicate some of the poles that had deteriorated while on outdoor display. In 1953, he designed and built the bighouse Wawadit'la, a smaller version of his family's traditional home (right). Standing in front is the Kwakwaka'wakw Heraldic Pole carved by Mungo Martin, David Martin and Mildred Hunt.


Thunderbird Park, Victoria, 2007.
Photo: Flickr


The website is divided into four chronological sections presented in an interactive legend (right): Pre Park (pre 1939); Early Park (1939 - 1952); Late Park (1952 - 1979); and Present Park (1980 - 2006). Thunderbird Park was established to show the diversity of Northwest Coast nations and their carving styles. The website follows this mandate by giving a detailed account of the history of each totem pole and an analysis of its iconography. The archival photos and videos that are presented in the chronological sections provide a rich source of contextual information.

Two additional Museum webpages on Thunderbird Park are: First Nations in the City and the celebration of Wawadit'la in 2003: Fiftieth Anniversary. From the Royal BC Museum.


Legend for Thunderbird Park.
Photo: Screenshot


To the Totem Forests

An educational website. An online digital version of the stunning exhibition "To the Totem Forests: Emily Carr and Contemporaries Interpret Coastal Villages" curated by Jay Stewart and Peter McNair and organized by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: "Including contemporaneous photographs provides a vehicle for this voice and also presents a context for the art works beyond the confines of their frames, offering the viewer new insights into the depiction of Northwest Coast monumental sculpture by artists during the first three decades of the twentieth century."

The exhibit gives an indigenous emphasis to the work: "The voice of First Nations people had to be introduced through first person testimony and anthropological records in order to contextualize the paintings and correct misinterpretations which were unwittingly introduced by the artists."


"Totem Walk at Sitka," Emily Carr, 1917.
Location: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria


The painting "Totem and Forest" (far right) was compared to its Haida totem pole model: "In the end, as in the beginning, totems and trees are the means for Emily Carr to communicate her lifelong passion for the natural and cultural landscapes of BC. . . both the cedar tree and the resultant form as revealed by the adze and knife of Haida carver Sqiletcànge. Together, these artists celebrate two art forms that have come to portray the spiritual essence of Canada's west coast." From the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

In her "Lecture on Totems" (1913), Emily Carr explained: "My object in making this collection of totem pole pictures has been to depict these wonderful relics of a passing people in their own original setting: the identical spots where they were carved and placed by the Indians in honour of their chiefs. These poles are fast becoming extinct. Each year sees some of their number fall, rotted with age; others bought and carried off to museums in various parts of the world; others, alas, burned down for firewood." The enormous popularity of Emily Carr is reflected in the 2006 National Gallery of Canada travelling exhibition. External link: Emily Carr: New Perspectives. Her First Nations imagery and relationship to native culture are explored by Gerta Moray in her 2006 book. External link: Unsettling Encounters.


Right: The relocated Haida totem pole in Prince Rupert, seen in the undated old postcard above, may have provided the model for Emily Carr's painting entitled "Totem and Forest," 1931. In the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery

Left: "Totem of a Haida Indian Chief and reported to be over 200 years old"


Totem Pole Virtual Gallery

An educational website. Includes five virtual presentations on totem poles, the first is divided into model totem poles: Small Totem Poles. The second is: Large Totem Poles. "In 1951, the Indian Act was revised and the ban on potlatching was dropped, rendering the celebration and raising of totem poles legal once again. Totem poles were again carved and erected in the communities along the coast." One photo shows the tallest totem pole in the world being carved at 'Yalis (Alert Bay) on Cormorant Island (right). 173 feet high, it was made from three cedar trees spliced together.

A second exhibit is: Northwest Coast Totem Poles. Another page in the exhibit is: Cedar: The Tree of Life. One page presents illustrations showing how totem poles are made: Totem Pole Creation. Another page presents a First Nations carver whose traditional name is Goothl T'similx ("the heart of the beaver lodge") who says: "My goal is to educate and represent and also promote my people and to tell the world we are not just objects in a museum." See: Michael Dangeli.

A third exhibit is an educational presentation of indigenous Northwest Coast carving: Totem Pole Slide Show. A fourth exhibit is a gallery that features a series of photos taken at the abandoned Kwakwaka'wakw village (right) on Turnour Island: Mamaliliqula. From the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Simon Fraser University.


Tallest totem, 'Yalis (Alert Bay).
Vancouver Island, BC

Totem pole at Mamaliliqula, 2006.
Turnour Island


Totem Poles

An educational website. Presents the classic scholarly work on totem poles by Marius Barbeau, director of the Museum of Civilization: Marcius Barbeau. His totem pole book was published as two volumes in 1950 in Ottawa, Canada, by the Department of Resources and Development, and the National Museum of Canada. It is the summary of research conducted from 1915 to 1947 on the Northwest Coast.

Of great value are the frontispiece maps showing the positions of the Indian villages. These are divided into nine distinct cultural and geographical areas identified as: Tlingit, Haida (Kaigani); Haida; Tsimsyan (Niska); Tsimsyan proper; Tsimsyan (Gitksan); Kwakiutl; Nootka; and Salish. Within these geographical areas the map identifies by number the 84 indigenous villages which had totem poles.

Each chapter is broken up into pdf files that can be downloaded. Of special interest are the many photos taken by Marius Barbeau that illustrate the text; Vol. I has 186 photos and Vol. II has 374 photos. The photos are of special value as in many instances they are the only remaining documentation of ancient indigenous villages and settlements apart from the totem poles and other cultural objects that ended up in museums and private collections.

Totem Poles Vol. I Examines totem poles in British Columbia according to crests and topics including: The Eagle; The Shark; The Beaver, Thunderbird, The Salmon Totems, Bear Mother, The Wolf, The Killer Whale, Sea Monsters, The Raven, The Cannibal or Mosquito, The Mountain Goat, Ridicule or Discredit poles; and The White Man.

Totem Poles Vol. II Examines totem poles according to geographical location in British Columbia and includes additional subjects such as: Synthesis and Compilation; The Growth of Totem Pole Carving; and Conservation and Restoration. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Totem Poles, 1950. (Click to enlarge)
Book by Marius Barbeau


Totem Poles - An Exploration

A commercial website. One page presents a guidebook by Pat Kramer. According to her, totem poles say: "This is who we are; we have prestige, we are united, and we are proud to derive from, fight for, and stand for the qualities these symbols imply." She write: "To be authentic, a totem pole needs to be sanctioned. First, it must be made by a trained Northwest Pacific Coast native person, or in rare cases, a non Native apprentice who is approved by a Northwest Pacific Coast Tribe from southeastern Alaska, coastal BC or northern Washington state. Secondly, it must be raised and blessed by Northwest Coast natives or elders who are part of the totem pole tradition."

About the "Salish Bear" totem pole at Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island (right), Kramer writes: "Bears live in their own villages in the forests and are able to make fires with wet sticks. They can easily transform into human form though as such, they have a lumbering gait and wear thick bearskin coats. Animal or human, they must not be insulted or cursed. Male Bears are caring creatures with a yen to marry human princesses. Bear Mothers have twin children who grow to adulthood in record time." From Pat Kramer.


Salish Bear Pole, Qualicum Beach.
Photo: Flickr


Totem Poles in British Columbia

A commercial website. Features the photography of the German born immigrant Kurt Knoll who lives in Kitimat, an industrial town founded on the coast of British Columbia by Alcan Inc in the early 1950s. Includes photos of totem poles and traditional ceremonies at several First Nations communities including the Haisla Kitamaat Village (right), Kitsumkalum, Kitwanga and Kitwancool, and 'Ksan Historical Village. One page is a gallery of work by a Haisla carver Sammy Robinson. Another page is a photo gallery of the totem poles in the city of Vancouver: Stanley Park. Some text is available in German. From Kurt's Photo Studio.


Haisla Homecoming Ceremony, 2003.
Photo: Kurt Knoll


Totem - Vancouver Public Art Registry

An educational website. Features the totem pole as one of the forms of public art on display in Vancouver, BC. Under the category "Totem Carved (usually wood), free standing pole of First Nations imagery and representations" will access a list with artist names, photos, descriptions and locations. Vancouver's Public Art Registry began in 1996 and was adapted as a website in 1999. One of the represented artists is Nuu chah nulth artist Joe David, who was commissioned to carve two traditional welcome figures to flank the entrance to the BC pavilion at Expo 86 (right).

Today these enormous red cedar figures greet visitors in the Arrivals Hall of the Vancouver International Airport. "They are carved with arms that swivel at the shoulder. "When positioned at the beach to welcome guests to a special event at the village, the welcome poles had their arms raised; when not in use, the arms were lowered to facilitate storage. The man wears the traditional knobbed hat of a high ranking person, perhaps a whaling chief, while the woman wears the domed hat common among her people. Both wear skirts that in reality would have been made of inner cedar bark, softly shredded and finely woven." From the City of Vancouver.


Nootka Welcome Figures by Joe David.
Illustration: Vancouver Public Art Registry


Totems: Silent Messengers of the West Coast

A commercial website. A Vancouver gallery that markets Northwest Coast art by First Nations carvers. "Historically, totem poles were commissioned by the Chief to mark a special event. Today, these silent messengers remain commanding great respect as they continue to proclaim significant community events or gatherings. Modern Pole raising ceremonies involve all community members and those who participate in the raising of the pole are regarded with great importance and stature." The page that featured the 2004 exhibit "Totems: Silent Messengers of the West Coast" is no longer active. Two pages are photo galleries of totem poles. From the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery.

Among the featured gallery artists is the Haida carver and forest activist Christian White whose studio is at Old Masset on Haida Gwaii (right). From the Dadens Yahgulaanas Raven Clan, his Haida name is "Kilthguulans" (Voice of Gold).


Christian White, Old Masset, 2005.
Haida Gwaii


Tsimshian Villages

An educational website. Presents archaeological research and ties it to work done earlier by Harlan I. Smith, Marius Barbeau and William Beynon. "Smith conducted the first archaeological tests in the Prince Rupert area in 1910. Later, in 1915, Marius Barbeau, along with William Beynon, a Native scholar, began an ethnological research project, examining Tsimshian family histories and myths. Beynon continued his research up to 1957." One page is an exhibition with archival photos. Includes pages on an archaeological excavation, Tsimshian society, culture and villages. Illustrates how integral totem poles were to Gitsegyukla, Hazelton (Gitenmaks), Kispiox, Kitselas, Kitwanga, Fort Simpson and Gitlaxdamsk.

"Legend has it that Kitwanga was founded by survivors of the traditional flood. One group, of the Raven Clan, had found refuge on a nearby mountain. After flood waters receded, they descended and encountered a second group, of the Eagle Clan, by the edge of the river. Together - it being the custom that marriages had to take place between members of different clans - these groups founded the village later known as Kitwanga." Available in French. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Tsimshian pole at Kitselas, 1910.
Photo: University of Washington


No longer online. A commercial website. One page describes the "Unity Pole" in front of the Police Headquarters in Victoria, BC (right). The pole was carved by Coast Salish artist Charles Elliot and his apprentice Barry Samis. Dedication: "Today on August 7th 1999 as we come together to honour our First Nations Peoples, we hereby pledge from this day forth, to build a community which is respectful of all persons, regardless of their gender, cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds. Let us build in unity the world of our millenium, enriched by this diversity and strengthened by the spirit of compassion." The celebratory feast included about 1,000 guests who were welcomed by Songhees Chief Robert Sam and Victoria Police Chief Paul Battersill. From Island Native. Related link: Unity Pole.

Victoria has many totem poles displayed as public sculptures to promote the indigenous heritage of the province as part of its tourism industry. Ironically often the sponsors of the totem poles were forest industry companies such as MacMillan Bloedel, which made their fortunes from destroying the monumental cedars necessary for making totem poles.


Unity Pole, Victoria, BC.
Photo: Karen Wonders


University of British Columbia

An educational website. Presents historical photographs in the University Archives. By entering "totem pole" into the search function, photos of totem poles located outdoors on campus can be seen. From University of British Columbia.

Of particular interest is the Kwakiutl Thunderbird totem pole "Victory Through Honor" (right). The university commissioned the pole in 1948 to promote its "Thunderbird Football Team." It was carved by Kwicksutaineuk Ellen Neel, one of the early women carvers. Ellen Neel said about the totem pole, which was located outside Brock Memorial, the first student union building: "To the Native people of the whole province we can give our assurance that your children will be accepted at this school by the Staff and Student Council, eager to smooth their paths with kindness and understanding. We need now only students to take advantage of the opportunity, so that some day our doctors, lawyers, social workers and departmental workers will be fully trained University graduates of our own race." The Native Voice (1948). A replica of the pole was rededicated on 18 October 2004.


Totem pole by Ellen Neel, 1948.
Photo: University of British Columbia


No longer online. A commercial website. Includes a page on the collection of First Nations totem poles and carvings at the Victorial Conference Centre. One of the artworks is the "First Wolf Dancer" sculpture by Art Thompson (1948 - 2003), a Ditidaht artist who was initiated into the Tloo-Kwalla or Wolf Society, a traditional Nootka tribal ceremony. His totem poles are in several international collections including the Sculpture Park at Stanford University.

A totem pole by Kwakiutl artist Tony Hunt stands 25 feet high (right) and is carved with family crests. A totem pole carved by Don Yeomans of Masset Village on Haida Gwaii depicts the traditional Haida motifs of the Raven and the Eagle. Musqueum artist Susan Point carved a work with motifs inspired by traditional Salish stories and legends. From the Victoria Conference Centre.


Totem pole by Tony Hunt, Victoria.
Photo: Karen Wonders


Visit to Alert Bay

A personal website. One page is a photo narrative by John Harvey of his whale watching boat trip to the Broughton Archipelago off Vancouver Island. Includes a stop at 'Yalis (Alert Bay), a small native village on Cormorant Island with a remarkable collection of totem poles located at the burial grounds of 'Namgis First Nation. No trespassing is allowed but the totem poles can be photographed from the road. "Living in Victoria, I had seen many totem poles but they rarely moved me. The totems in museums are generally in pristine condition, sterile and removed from their context. Seeing the totems in the 'Namgis Burial Grounds gave them a sense of purpose and relayed a story about people I would never meet." A second webpage, also with informative notes, includes more photos of the 'Namgis poles: North Island. From John Harvey.


Totem poles at 'Yalis (Alert Bay).
Photos: John Harvey


Where Sea and Land Meet

An educational website. Presents a virtual exhibition of documentary paintings commissioned to illustrate traditional Northwest Coast art and culture organized according to themes and peoples (right). The introduction is by George F. MacDonald: "A detailed knowledge of the traditional cultures of the coastal peoples of British Columbia (Canada) and Washington State (United States), and of the geographic settings in which those cultures flourished, are the source materials to which Gordon Miller and Bill Holm apply their artistic skills. Their realistic and often dramatic reconstructions depicting people, places and events from the past are based on careful study of museum collections, archival documents and photographs, and archaeological evidence. These paintings help us understand what life must have been like for the peoples who inhabited that strip of Pacific coast lying between the sea and the rainforest." From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

"It is in their true home that these picturesque creations can be seen to best advantage. At the edge of the ocean, amid tall cedars and hemlocks, and in the shadow of lofty mountain peaks, they create impression as unexpected as they are eotic. Deep set in moist, dark green, semi tropical surroundings, in an atmosphere often laden with bluish mists, their bold profiles are strangely reminiscent of Asiatic divinities and monsters" M. Barbeau, Totem Poles, 1955.


Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, c. 1878.
Painting by Gordon Miller

Old Masset, Haida Gwaii, c. 1870.
Painting by Gordon Miller