Alaska 2016 Part 1: Vancouver’s Totem Poles in Stanley Park

August 20,  2016

Stanley Park is a large park on a peninsula northwest of downtown Vancouver. This park contains many attractions, including the Vancouver Aquarium, a botanic garden called the Rose Garden, Stanley Park Pitch & Putt, lighthouses, the nine o’clock gun and totem poles, among others.  There is a biking & hiking path around the perimeter and many other trails that cut through the park. You can also take a horse and carriage tour, or get there by car. However, I think exploring the park on foot or bike is the best way to enjoy it.

We started in the direction of the Seawall Walk which would take us to the park.  According to the map it was only a couple of miles to get to Brockton Point. Near Canada Place, where we were staying, we stopped to take pictures of the Olympic cauldron from when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter games, the “digital Orca” which from afar looked like it was made of Legos, and a “Yogathon” which we observed from our table at lunch at an outdoor café.  Different yoga instructors conducted these sessions, and there were yoga mats spread out all over the terrace.  Mostly what they did was a series of Sun Salutations, with slight variations.

Cauldron of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver
Cauldron of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver
"Digital Orca"
“Digital Orca”

The Seawall took us along the harbor and around a couple of marinas.

Float plane airport/marina
Float plane airport/marina
Gas station on the water (for boats and possibly float planes)
Gas station on the water (for boats and possibly float planes)
colorful houseboats
colorful houseboats



From the small map I had, I misjudged how far we’d gone, but it seemed right because the whole route is supposed to be 9 km (about 5.5 miles) and we were only going to do about 1/3 to ½ of it. When I realized my mistake,  I realized how much farther we had to go to get into Stanley Park.  Our goal was to at least see the totem poles, located west of Brockton Point.

This picture is to show how the "beachfront" looks at low tide.
Low tide
Autumn begins to make its appearance here even as the temperatures are warm.
Autumn begins to make its appearance here in August even though the temperatures are still warm.

We stopped to rest, already tired, at a spot where there were restrooms and the starting point for the horse and carriage tours. I knew we’d get our Fitbit 10,000 steps even if we took the horse-pulled carriage one-hour tour, so  I inquired and found out they do make a 5-minute stop at the totem poles.  However, the price for seniors was $C39 each!  It wasn’t worth almost 80 Canadian dollars to get a one-hour tour, in our opinion.

So after resting awhile,  we set off again on foot.  My Fitbit buzzed while I was still on the walking path – I’d gone 10,000 steps and we weren’t even there yet!

We admired the artistry and beauty of the totem poles, read what each one represented, took pictures, then took a longer rest.

A plaque at the totem poles site read: The totem was the British Columbia Indians’ “coat of arms.” Totem poles are unique to Northwest Coast B.C. and lower Alaska. They were carved from western red cedar and each carving tells of a real or mythical event. They were not idols, nor were they worshipped. Each carving on each pole has a meaning. The eagle represents the kingdom of the air. The whale, the lordship of the sea. The wolf, the genius of the land. And the frog, the traditional link between land and sea.

Carved house posts are used in traditional First Nations’ cedar homes to support the roof beams.

Replica of a house post carved by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charlie James in the early 1900s. This replica was carved by Tony Hunt in 1987 to replace the old post which is now in the Vancouver Museum. Charlie James created a bold new style using bright colors and techniques which has influenced future generations of artists.

The Sky Chief Pole below celebrates the arts and ceremonies of the artists’ grandparents’ generation and which continue today in spite of near cultural annihilation.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
This pole was carved in 1988 by Hesquiat artist Tim Paul and Ditidaht artist Art Thompson. It contains important characters in Nuu-chah-nulth history. From top, the figures are: Sky Chief holding moon, kingfisher, thunderbird, whale, lightning snake, wolf, Man of Knowledge holding topati.

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Ellen Neel, the first woman to be a Northwest Coast carver, completed this pole in 1955.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Ellen Neel’s pole (in front) – see caption under the picture below.
KODAK Digital Still Camera
Pole in front – From top to bottom: Thunderbird, Sea bird holding killer whale, Man, Frog, Bak’was “wild man of the woods”, Dzunukwa: a giantess, Raven

The pole in back is the Chief Wakas pole; another picture of it is below.

In Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) ceremonies, carved staffs called talking sticks are held by people making speeches for a chief.  This talking stick and characters are from an Owikeno story belonging to Chief Wakas. The original pole was raised in front of Chief Wakas’ house in the 1890s. The Raven’s beak opened to form a ceremonial entrance to the house and its body was painted on the house. Nimpkish artist Doug Cranmer carved this new pole in 1987.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Chief Wakas Pole (on right): Top to Bottom: Thunderbird, Killer whale, Wolf, Wise one, Huxwhukw: a mythical bird, Bear, Raven

The unpainted pole in back is the Beaver Crest pole. It was carved in 1987 by Nisga’a artist Norman Tait along with his son Isaac, brother Robert  and nephew Ron Telek.  It depicts how the Tait family’s Eagle clan adopted the beaver crest, and how the Eagle and Raven met and shared the sky.

More poles:

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Even after resting, I was still tired but we headed back.

I remembered that we had passed an gelato shop along the Seawall somewhere and thought that would be just the thing  to rejuvenate me.  Just thinking about ice cream (my favorite food) made me keep walking! When we got to Casa Dolce, we both ordered large cones with two substantial scoops of ice cream. They had several flavors to choose from.


On our way back, we took a shortcut into a street that bypassed the marinas, and soon we were back at Canada Place.  On my Fitbit, I saw that we had walked more than 7 miles!


3 thoughts on “Alaska 2016 Part 1: Vancouver’s Totem Poles in Stanley Park

  1. Yes! I remember those! I have the same photos. I’m cleaning up my blog, so deleting lots of people I follow, it’s easier to delete everyone and them follow back the important ones. So don’t be surprised when you see I’m following you again! 🙂

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