By indexer
94 days ago

The totem poles of Stanley Park

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Stanley Park is one of the main attractions in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with around eight million visitors every year. It covers about a thousand acres of a promontory on the north side of the city, looking across Vancouver Harbour to North Vancouver. The park was opened in 1888 and named in honour of the then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston. The collection of totem poles at Brockton Point, to the south-east of Stanley Park, is one of the most popular features of the park.

When the park was first created, the promontory’s natural woodland was used by a number of First Nation people, including the Musqueams. A plan was drawn up in the early 20th century, by the Art, Historical and Scientific Association, to create an “Indian village” as a tourist attraction, but fortunately this voyeuristic proposal was soon dropped. However, the plan included moving several totem poles to the park from other places in Canada. In 1922 the first four poles were bought from a site at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island to the north of Vancouver. These were created by the Kwakwaka'wakw people, who have also contributed some of the later additions.

In 1962 the poles were moved to their present position against a wooded backdrop, protected by a narrow water feature to guard against vandalism, looking out across the water towards the high-rise skyline of downtown Vancouver. Some of the poles are original and date back about a hundred years, but others have been replaced by replicas or newly commissioned poles. There are now eight poles in the collection, none of which relate to the original occupiers of the site, but three gateways carved by Musqueam people were added in 2008 to make good this anomaly.

The full story of the totem poles is told in the exhibition mounted in the visitor centre close to the site. Visitors can learn the significance of the poles and what each element means. The poles were not objects of worship, nor were they merely decorative, but represent the traditions and culture of the communities that created them. They do have a religious significance in that the carvings of animals and birds relate to the spirit world. Typical representations are of grizzly bears, wolves, beavers and ravens. Some poles include boxes to contain the remains of a dead chief, and some were originally part of a chief’s house or would have stood just outside to tell the story of the chief’s achievements.

The most vividly painted totem poles at Brockton Point are relatively recent and are startling works of art in their own right. On one pole the Thunderbird spreads his wings, carved and painted in 1955 by Ellen Neel, who is believed to have been the first woman to carve totem poles professionally. On another pole the Quolus bird perches on the head of Red Cedar-bark Man, who was revered by the Kwakwaka'wakw people for having given them the secrets of canoe building.

The totem poles at Stanley Park have much to tell about the people who created them, and form an open-air textbook of native culture for those who are willing to learn what they mean. There are other sets of totem poles in the region, most notably at Alert Bay mentioned above, but the Stanley Park collection has the advantage of accessibility, being easily (and freely) visited by anyone living in or visiting British Columbia’s largest city.

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soncee Wonderful artikle friend
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RasmaSandra The park and these totem poles I would love to see. Thanks for sharing.
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