A 40-foot memorial totem pole raised in Prince Rupert on Wednesday (Aug. 11) marked the first pole raised for public viewing in the city for more than 30 years.
The afternoon ceremony was witnessed by over 200 people lining the Second Avenue West property where the pole is now at home, including St’langng Lanaas-Janaas clan Chief Skil Kwii’tTlaas Judy Williams and her partner Brian Bell, whose attendance from Haida Gwaii was blessed by the Haida Nation.
Lead carver Lyle Campbell started the project in memory of his mother Alice Campbell, who passed away six years prior to the pole raising, to the day.
According to Campbell, Williams was his mother’s best friend.
The whole project was a two-year effort, Campbell said, from finding the right pole, to felling, to shipping the red cedar log from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert, to carving along with a team of more than 10 regional artists, to the final raising ceremonies.
Carving and painting the pole took four months in a shed in his P.R. front yard.
“I knew we would have to do a lot of condensed carving time. From June 28 to July 28, I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week on it. The crew changed around. A whole host of carvers put their hands to it,” he said.
For the design of the pole, Campbell was inspired by the Eagle Clan and crests of his family’s Stasdsta’aas people, such as a beaver, two eagles, butterfly, frog and 12 dragonflies.
Usually a pole raising would be attended by more than 3,000 people, Campbell said, and followed by a traditional feast of close to 500 people. There would be lots of gift-giving, cultural singing, dancing and drumming.
In his effort to keep the event small due to COVID-19, Campbell didn’t plan any of that, however, impromptu cultural drumming and singing were initiated by attendees in the spirit of the memorial, along with blessing and awakening of the pole.
“I was announcing to people that it was a closed ceremony, that we were going to have family and carvers only … but being that the City of Prince Rupert hasn’t seen a pole in about three decades, they were quite excited,” he said. “People were coming and watching the whole event. It is quite something to see.”
Many donations and volunteers made the pole happen, he added.
“Literally we had a zero budget when this started. We had no idea how this was going to happen. We had the vision and the will, and the drive. We were going to do this from our hearts and trust in the Creator that everything would be there that we need. And it was,” he said.
“It is reflective that people just want to see this happen … The culture is here. It is alive. It is moving forward.”
— With files from Karissa Gall
Do you have something we should report on? Email: