People Amongst the People in Stanley Park

Photo: Flickr G.S. Matthews

Standing in silence, gazing up at the magnificent Totem Poles located in the heart of Stanley Park, I was thankful for the chilly, misty day. The moody weather served to keep the crowds away, and I found myself alone amongst the poles at Brockton Point. Easily one of our city’s most frequented tourist attractions, it is extremely unusual to be standing solo amongst these magnificent, historical pieces. Masterfully crafted, each intricate pole tells a unique and compelling story. Captivated, I took my time and carefully studied the poles.

Photo: Flickr Anthony Maw

The collection of poles at Stanley Park dates back to the 1920’s when four totems from Alert Bay were purchased and installed at Lumberman’s Arch. Over the years, the poles were relocated to their present location and joined by new poles obtained from Haida Gwaii and central British Columbia. During the 1980’s the Park Board sent many of the poles to museums for preservation and commissioned the replacement totems that proudly stand at today’s site in the park. Most recently, in 2009, a new pole carved by renowned artist Robert Yelton of the Squamish Nation was erected in front of the original house site of Rose Cole Yelton. Rose was one of the last residents of the Brockton Point Community.

Photo: City of Vancouver

Recognizing the absence of work representing local First Nations, the Vancouver Parks Board commissioned Susan A. Point from the Musqueam First Nation to create a piece for the Brockton Point site, and People amongst the People was born. Designed as a series of three welcoming portals the installations represent the traditional Coast Salish slant roof style of architecture, with carved figures in the doorways.

Photo: Rob Weiss

Although each pole is unique and special in its’ own way, I found myself transfixed by the Chief Skedans Mortuary Pole. Perhaps I was inspired by my recent visit to Haida Gwaii. Carved by Bill Reid, this stunning work is a replica of the Mortuary Pole initially raised in the village of Skidegate in the 1870’s. Honouring the Raven Chief of Skedans the pole depicts the hereditary crests of the chief. At the top of the original pole, a rectangular board covered a cavity that held the Chief’s remains in a burial box, hence a mortuary pole. Examining the piece in detail, I could clearly see the moon, a Mountain Goat, Grizzly Bear and a Whale.

Photo: Rob Weiss

Lost in thought, contemplating the history of the park and remembering the Coast Salish people who lived on these traditional grounds for generations, I was startled by the unexpected sound of a seaplane crossing overhead. Transporting me back to the future the plane served as a not so subtle reminder that I was in the heart of a thriving, bustling city and it was time to continue my exploration of Stanley Park.

Getting There:

Bike, walk or roll your wall along the Seawall to Brockton Point, location of the Stanley Park Totem Poles. Limited paid parking is available. Enjoy views of Coal Harbour and the city skyline along the way.

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One Response to People Amongst the People in Stanley Park

  1. K Lindsey

    As a white settler, it is important to me that the not-so-pretty history of Vancouver be shared. According to Jean Barman in the 2007 article “ERASING INDIGENOUS INDIGENEITY IN VANCOUVER,” The totem poles mark a location where the original Indigenous residents of “Stanley Park” were unsettled, their history erased, and their buildings burned to the ground. Barman writes, “The Brockton Point families were unsettled. Those living on the south side of Brockton Point, whose houses were considered to spoil the view of the park from downtown Vancouver and vice versa, were forced out in 1931. Their homes were then burned to erase any indication of their longtime presence on the peninsula.” The first totem poles erected were from Northern Vancouver Island and were put up in an effort to provide a “sanitized indigeneity” to the park. It is wonderful that we honor and appreciate the Indigenous art in Stanley Park, but we should also be aware of the history.