Totem Poles at Gitanyow

Above: Hole in the Ice totem pole at Gitanyow, British Columbia. The totem poles at this National Historical Site represent one of the largest collections in North America. Although many of the sculptures at Gitanyow are replicas (the originals were moved to museums), Hole in the Ice is an original.

Carved from cedar and imbued with symbolism, history and tradition, totem poles are an art from that fire the imagination. When we read that there was an authentic collection a short detour off the Stewart Cassiar Highway we were taking north through British Columbia, we had to make the trip. There are other places in the Northwest where you can see totem poles, but Gitanyow is compelling for sheer numbers (about 50) as well as for the detailed artistry in many of the poles.

Figures such as this wolf may represent a clan, a specific person, or be part of a story.

Right: This friendly mixed breed  we nicknamed Bear adopted me and stayed by my side throughout our visit. The poles in this photo are smaller than the others pictured in this post.

There is a museum at this site, but it was closed on the day we visited. In fact, we didn’t see a single other person as we walked the grounds, and although explanations of what we were looking at would have been welcome, the solitude to contemplate these carvings through our own lenses was even more welcome.

The totem poles at Gitanyow are in various states of weathering, with some so worn their features are hard to make out.

As we walked the grounds on this grey, misty, sometimes rainy summer day, one word kept passing over our lips. “Cool.” Thinking back on that day and looking at these photos again, the same word comes to mind, pushing others aside. These sculptures are cool. Way cool.

Above: a beaver seems to be gnawing on a headband above this face. 

17 thoughts on “Totem Poles at Gitanyow

  1. Welcome to British Columbia! My home and native land 🙂 Glad you decided to detour. Even more glad you shared the photos and feelings. Proud to say my grandpa took part in the construction of that highway. His Alaska highway work boots adorn our family cabin. Someday maybe I’ll take them back there to walk a mile in his shoes.

  2. Ah wonderful! we have a totem pole in the Native American section of our museum and I’ve loved it since I was a little girl, it would be fantastic to see these!

    • Seeing a collection like this (on a morning when we had the grounds to ourselves, no less) was a fantastic experience. Of course, there’s lots more than totem poles up here. Judging from your blog, you’d enjoy a visit to the American Northwest!

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