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 poles.
The Capilano 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.
Travelling eastwards on Highway 7, the Xa:ytem Longhouse Interpretive Centre, 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.
From Prince 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 Historic Site.
This fort, 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.