These tall, beautifully carved objects are totem poles, part of the culture and artistry of the First Nations people, specifically those of the Pacific Northwest. The great forests that once covered the misty Pacific shores were home to vast red cedar trees, traditionally used to make the poles. Now only pockets of that forest remain, glimpses of the long-ago.
The top photo was taken in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, a piece of the old forest preserved on the very tip of the gleaming city. I used to live across the road from where the park began, and often walked there with my dog, taking trails past hidden lakes and tangled undergrowth. Once you’re among the trees, it’s easy to forget you’re in a city. It’s a marvellous place.
The second photo was taken in Vancouver as well, at Capilano Valley, and the above image was taken at Victoria, on Vancouver Island. The figures on the poles are stylistic representations of known ancestors, natural objects and animals, and supernatural beings, and they were used by different families or clans as storytelling devices, funerary containers, and even as shaming devices, only removed once the wrong was righted or the debt paid.
This final totem pole, randomly enough, is in Berkhamsted, an historic town quite close to where I live. And how did a totem pole find its way into the heart of England? Apparently, during the 1960’s, Berkhamsted resident Roger Alsford worked at the Tahsis Lumber Mill on Vancouver Island. During strike action he was saved from starvation by the local Kwakiutl community, who looked after him. In gratitude his family, who owned a lumber mill in Berkhamsted, commissioned the totem pole to be carved by First Nations artist, Henry Hunt. In 1968 the completed pole was shipped to England and erected at the lumber yard. It’s now private apartments, so you can’t get close to the totem any more, but it is still visible from the canal.
Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!
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