One of the many attractions in Vancouver’s Stanley Park is the collection of colourful totem poles at Brockton Point. They were created by First Nations artists. The poles are impressive and very popular. The display provides great photo opportunities as well as interesting information. According to the City of Vancouver website, the nine totem poles are British Columbia’s most visited attraction.
The First Nations are a group of Canada’s indigenous people. Three groups exist; the First Nations (who were once referred to as “Indians”), the Métis, and the Inuit. Totem poles have been and still are an important part of First Nations culture. They are tall and narrow monuments that are created for multiple reasons. Some depict the history of a family, an individual, or an entire nation; some tell an important story; and some are memorials. In Canada, totem poles are traditionally carved from the wood of the western red cedar tree.
The poles in Stanley Park are fascinating to observe. A visitor could spend a long time examining the multiple figures on each one and considering their meaning. The height of a totem pole enables it to convey a lot of information.
The poles at Brockton Point are located on traditional Coast Salish land. The Coast Salish people are a local First Nations group. In some cases, the poles are carefully constructed replicas of much older originals. In others, they were created for the Stanley Park display or for a nearby one.
The original items duplicated by the replicas have been sent to museums or other protective areas, where there have been preserved. They are important historically as well as artistically. An outdoor environment is not the best place to keep them, although that was once their home. (The replicas are subject to the same environmental stresses as the originals, which is another problem.) All of the original works and replicas were created by First Nations artists.
The Chief Wakas Totem Pole is located on the right in the first photo and on the left in the one above. The original stood outside the chief’s house in Alert Bay around 1910. Alert Bay is a village on Cormorant Island in British Columbia. The bird at the top of the pole is the thunderbird. The animal was an important part of First Nations culture and myths in the past. It was a supernatural being of great power and created thunder by flapping its wings. Underneath the thunderbird is an orca (or killer whale) and below that is a wolf. Doug Cranmer carved the replica pole in 1982. The sign accompanying the sculpture says that he inherited Chief Wakas’ crests.
The Oscar Maltipi Totem Pole is located in the middle of the first and second photos. Like the Chief Wakas pole, it has a thunderbird at the top. This time the bird’s face is emphasized and its wings aren’t outstretched. The pole was created in 1968 and erected in Stanley Park 1987 . It was created by artist Oscar Maltipi. He trained at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia’s capital.
A close-up view of the two sculptures is shown below. The photo was taken two years before mine. A viewer may notice small differences between the same sculptures in photos taken at different times. This reflects minor changes made to correct problems that appear in the poles.
The Beaver Crest totem pole is located on the left in the first photo. It was created by Norman Tait in 1987 and tells the story of how and why his family adopted the beaver as a crest. The Sky Chief totem pole is located on the right in my second photo. The top of the pole shows the sky chief holding the moon. Some important animals are depicted below him. Tim Paul and Art Thompson created the sculpture in 1988.
Our art comes from spirituality. Even after the onslaught of another culture, our spirituality and our beliefs are alive. In this pole we wanted to acknowledge the arts and ceremonies of our grandparents’ generation and show that the arts are here today, just as we are here–alive and intact” (Tim Paul)
The Kakaso’Las Totem Pole is on the left in the photo above. Its top can be seen in the photo below. Ellen Neel created the original sculpture in 1955. The sign by the picture says that she was the first female Northwest Coast carver. She created poles for museums, city displays, and individuals. She died in 1966.
Ellen’s carving at Brockton point was created for the Woodward’s department store. The store opened in 1903 and was popular for a long time. The building had multiple levels and innovations that many people hadn’t seen before. Sadly, it no longer exists. It closed due to bankruptcy in 1993.
The Ga’akstalas Totem Pole is next in the photo above but is in the background. Wayne Alfred and Beau Dick created it in 1991. It shows mythical creatures from their culture.
We wanted this pole to be a beacon of strength for our young people and show respect for our elders. It is to all our people who have made contributions to our culture. (Beau Dick, with reference to the Ga’akstalas sculpture)
The Thunderbird House Post Totem Pole is the small one in the middle of the fourth photo above and is also in the middle in the photograph below. The thunderbird has wings that are open. The replica represents a sculpture that was utilitarian. House posts were once used to support the roof beam of a home. The original artist was Charlie James. He created the house post sometime in the 1900s. Tony Hunt created the replica.
Chief Skedan’s Mortuary Totem Pole is on the right of the fourth photo and the one below. A mortuary pole contained a cavity where the remains of a deceased chief were placed. The original pole dates from 1870 and was placed in the Haida village of Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. The area behind the rectangular board at the top was used to store the chief’s remains. The original pole was returned to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago once known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. The replica was carved by Bill Reid (a renowned Haida artist) and his assistant Werner True.
In the photo below, a tall pole can be seen behind the display entrance and to the left of it. This is the Rose Cole Yelton Memorial Totem Pole. The area where the poles at Brockton Point are located was once a Coast Salish community. Rose was the last surviving member of that community. She died in 2002. The pole honours Rose and the other people who lived in the area and was raised in 2009.
In her teenage years (and perhaps even later), Rose and her family lived at Brockton Point. The pole has been placed in front of the place where the Cole family’s house once existed. (Yelton was the last name of Rose’s husband.) The head carver was Rose’s son, but many people contributed to the memorial. The pole depicts items related to Rose’s family and life.
The totem poles are located beside the Brockton Point Visitor Centre. The centre contains a gift shop, a small food service area, and washrooms. There are various ways to reach the display. One is to walk or cycle along the path at the top of the seawall. The path is flat, but the journey time is variable, depending on the starting point and the speed of travel. Other walking and cycling routes also enable people to reach the display.
There’s parking space at the centre for cars. The park contains other areas for people to leave their cars as well. Pay parking is in effect in Stanley Park. Though there’s no pubic transit within the park, a sightseeing bus may be available. This may be worth investigating before a visit.
A camera is an important accessory when visiting Brockton Point. A telephoto lens of some kind is useful, since visitors can’t go right up to the totem poles, but even without this the display is well worth visiting. Some research is required to plan the best route, but this is well worthwhile.