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. There are many ways to experience the
rich culture and native heritage of British Columbia's most fascinating
people. For your own exploration of some of the best totem poles and
aboriginal art in British Columbia, here are a few areas worth visiting.
In the heart
of Vancouver, at Stanley Park,
a collection of Kwakiutl and Haida totem poles represents styles
from a few of the northwest Pacific coast native traditions. The
Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, in
Vancouver, holds an impressive collection of Pacific Northwest aboriginal
artifacts, including a definitive collection of west coast totem
Suspension Bridge and Park, in North Vancouver, offers
a thrilling adventure 70 metres (230 feet) above the Capilano River.
The park features colourful totem poles beautifully maintained in
their original condition. In summer, watch First Nations artists
at work in the longhouse carving centre.
eastwards on Highway 7, the Xa:ytem
Longhouse, in Mission, is an Historic Site and
the first native spiritual site in Canada to be recognized by both
Provincial and Federal governments. Carbon-dated at between 5,000
and 9,000 years old, the centrepiece of the ancient village site
is an enormous boulder dubbed Xa:ytem, meaning 'the transformed
one.' The Sto:lo Nation has recently erected a longhouse at the
site where, between June to September, visitors can learn more about
traditional First Nations' culture and history. Each year in July,
the Mission Powwow, which represents a celebration of the survival
and adaptation of native culture, draws drummers, singers and dancers
to a three-day festival. Outsiders may respectfully attend.
George, drive west along Highway 16 to the 'Ksan Historical
Village and Museum in Hazelton. The museum, in one of the
long houses, honours the Gitksan ancestors, who were graced with such
abundance that they had time to beautify the items they carved for
everyday use. Seven decorated tribal houses fronted with several totems
stand silently on the banks of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. Further
along is the Kitwanga Fort National
known on maps and signs as Battle Hill, was constructed on top of
a glacial mound overlooking the river. The most famous warrior to
occupy this fort was a man known as Nekt. His descendants continue
to live in the native villages of the area.
Detour up Highway
37 to the small village of Kitwancool, to see what are reputed
to be the oldest and finest examples of totem poles in British Columbia.
The three poles mounted together directly in front of the Gitanyow
Band Council office are among the most intricately designed ones of
the whole group, and demonstrate that the carving tradition here is
stronger than ever.
Take a side trip to Nisga'a Memorial Lava
Beds Provincial Park, which has special significance to native
people. Two centuries ago T'aam Baxhl Mihl Mountain erupted and destroyed
two native villages, along with an estimated 2,000 Nisga'a ancestors.
Board a BC
Ferry in Prince Rupert and cross the Hecate Strait to the breathtaking
islands of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). They lie
on the edge of the province's collective memory like a dream scarce
remembered, mythical and elusive, full of meaning and beauty, yet
incomprehensible to the waking mind.
come to the islands to see the ancient villages on Moresby Island,
accessible only by boat. Anthony Island, home of the old Haida village
of Ninstints, is located within the boundaries of Gwaii
Haanas National Park Reserve, and is a World Heritage Site.
Return to Prince
Rupert and visit the Museum of Northern British Columbia, which
houses an exceptional collection of Tsimshian artifacts. Tsimshian
people continue to live in the area of Prince Rupert and on hundreds
of offshore islands.
BC Ferries connect
the community of Prince Rupert with Port Hardy, at the northeastern
end of Vancouver Island. The magnificent 15-hour cruise down the Inside
Passage leads through majestic fjords and a maze of narrow channels.
Snow and ice coat the peaks of the mountains, and their shoulders
plunge to the tideline. So rugged is most of this coast that if you
were exploring here by kayak, you'd be challenged to find a welcoming
landing site. Keep your camera handy, and passengers should keep their
eyes peeled for a whale or dolphin in Queen Charlotte Sound. With
luck you might even see a white-coated Kermodei bear on Princess Royal
Island's lengthy shoreline.
lies cradled in the arms of Cormorant Island, easily accessible
by a scenic ferry ride from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island.
Visit the U'mista Cultural Centre to view elaborately carved cedar
masks depicting the Potlatch ceremony of the Kwakwaka'wakw
People. And memorial
totem poles may be viewed from the road at the native Namgis Burial
Back on Vancouver
Island, follow Highway 19 to Campbell River. The rich native
heritage of Campbell River is proudly displayed in the Campbell River
Museum, which features a fine display of contemporary native masks
and ceremonial items. Quadra Island, a ten-minute ferry ride
from Campbell River, is well worth thevisit. A "must see" is their
Nuyumbalees Cultural Center (formerly Kwagiulth Museum and Cultural
Center), which showcases potlatch regalia, ceremonial masks, rattles,
to Nanaimo and Petroglyph Park,
to see 10,000-year-old stone carvings. Though the exact meaning
or purpose of petroglyphs has been lost to time, the indelibly etched
figures speak of the search for harmony between humans and nature,
between humans and the divine. The local natives call it Kinomagewapkong,
meaning 'the rocks that teach.'
itself 'The City of Totems' and features a selfguided walking tour
of 41 totem poles in downtown Duncan. Visit the superb Quw'utsun'
Cultural and Conference Centre - exhibits, traditional foods,
storytelling, and Cowichan artists and elders at work. Their mission
is to share and to build the pride of First Peoples through education,
art, and traditional weaving, beading, spinning as well as providing
entertainment for guests and first nations people by reflecting the
past and striving in the present to enhance the future of our Native
Park in Victoria
The Royal British
Columbia Museum located in the inner harbour area of Victoria,
presents a premier collection of native artifacts. Outside the museum,
protected from the elements, stand some of the oldest totem poles
and greet figures ever collected and preserved. Totem poles carved
in the styles of aboriginal people throughout British Columbia can
be seen in Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Royal British
to complete this circle tour of Native heritage and culture, relax
aboard a BC Ferry on the scenic cruise back to Tsawwassen, south
and Heritage Tour Operators in British Columbia
Towns on or near this Route Click on a town name to learn
more about that town.