Four Places to Marvel at Totem Poles in Vancouver

The majestic Celebration of Flight (Vancouver International Airport).

Totem poles are traditional monuments created by the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest that commemorate timeless legends, clan lineages and notable events.

Beautiful works of art, totem poles document fascinating tales through crest figures that represent supernatural beings. You can “read” a totem pole from bottom to top, with the lower symbols and images considered the most important.

There are several spots in Vancouver to study totem poles in detail. Visit the following four attractions, for starters:

Nine totem poles stand tall in Stanley Park (Tourism Vancouver/Kazutoshi Yoshimura).

1 – Stanley Park. The totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park are the most visited tourist attraction in BC. The collection started in the 1920s, when the Vancouver Park Board purchased four totem poles from Alert Bay on Vancouver Island; the collection expanded with additional totem poles acquired from Haida Gwaii and Rivers Inlet. The most recent totem was added in 2009, carved by an artist from the Squamish Nation. When visiting the site, you’ll also see three carved red cedar poles welcoming visitors to the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people.

The totem poles at the MOA surround an authentic Haida House (Anatole Tuzlak, courtesy of Destination British Columbia).

2 – Museum of Anthropology. One of the most prominent collections at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is the outdoor totem pole display, which surrounds a replica of an authentic Haida house. One of the original poles that stood there was carved by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid; though it was moved inside to prevent weather damage, a replacement pole was erected to honour the late artist (to see more art by Bill Reid, visit the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver).

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is home to the largest privately owned totem pole collection in Vancouver (Tourism Vancouver/Capilano Suspension Bridge Park).

3 – Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. This popular attraction is home to the largest privately owned collection of totem poles in Vancouver. Upon arriving, head to Kia’palano, where you’ll learn about the historical connection between First Nations culture and the natural world, in addition to seeing exquisite century-old poles crafted by the Coast Salish peoples. (Fun fact: Kia’palano is the word for “beautiful river” in the Squamish Nation language.)

4 – Vancouver International Airport. Housing the largest collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art in the world, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) features the stunning Celebration of Flight, a magnificent totem pole that pays tribute to humans – creatures who weren’t gifted with the ability to fly, but found a way to do so through technology and innovation. The pole harmonizes Haida mythology symbols with symbols of other Western and Eastern cultures, to welcome travellers and honour YVR as a multicultural meeting place.

Eager to learn more about Indigenous culture in Vancouver? Click here, then share your explorations using the hashtag #LoveVancouver.

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