The Stanley Park totem poles in Vancouver simply are a must-see. On our second day in Vancouver, the shone down so we headed straight to the park!
Entering the ‘Poles park’ you are greeted by this new totem pole.
It is the Rose Cole Yelton Memorial Totem Pole. She was the last surviving resident of the Brockton Community that lived in the area. This Totem Pole stands in front of where her house once stood
We can also see a collection of replica totem poles, including my favourite, the Thunderbird House Post Totem Pole. This replica was carved in 1987 to replace the original pole which is now in the Vancouver Museum.
Originally carved by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charlie James in the early 1900s, the Thunderbird House Post Totem tells the story of the Thunderbird, a powerful and important creature in First Nations culture. The Thunderbird is said to be a supernatural bird with the ability to control thunder and lightning, and it is often seen as a symbol of power, strength, and protection.
The totem pole features a Thunderbird figure at the top, with its wings spread wide in flight. Below the Thunderbird are several smaller figures, including a bear, a wolf, and a beaver, each of which represents different aspects of First Nations culture and traditions.
Who were the The Kwakwaka’wakw?
Also known as the Kwakiutl, the Kwakwaka’wakw are an Indigenous group of people who live in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, primarily on the northern coast of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland of British Columbia, Canada. They are known for their art and craftsmanship, which includes carving totem poles, weaving baskets and blankets, and creating elaborate masks and other ceremonial objects.
What is a Totem Pole?
The word totem refers to a guardian or ancestral being, usually supernatural, that is revered and respected, but not always worshipped. A totem pole is a carved and painted log, mounted vertically, constructed by the Indians/First Nations of the Northwest Coast of the United States and Canada. The poles can be carved for several different reasons:
- Memorial, or heraldic poles
- ‘Home Ownership Poles’ that are erected to reflect the change in ownership of a home (identify the past and new owner)
- Grave Markers (tombstones)
- House posts, decorative posts to support the roof of a house
- Portal poles, which have a hole through which a person enters the house
- Welcoming poles, placed at the edge of a body of water to identify the owner of the waterfront
- Mortuary Poles, in which the remains of the deceased are placed like a sarcophagus
- Ridicule poles, on which an important individual who had failed in some way had his likeness carved upside down
What do the animals represent on a totem pole?
The animals that appear on a totem pole are usually chosen for their importance to the community that commissioned the pole. Their true meaning can vary between different First Nations cultures and communities whilst their location within the context of totem pole can also influence their meaning.
However, as a broad guide here are some meanings:
- Bear: strength, leadership, healing, hunting prowess
- Eagle: vision, freedom, spiritual connection, courage
- Raven: creation, knowledge, transformation, messenger between worlds
- Wolf: loyalty, communication, hunting prowess, family, community
- Salmon: abundance, fertility, renewal, life cycle
- Frog: transformation, cleansing, renewal, adaptability
- Hummingbird: joy, love, beauty, energy, agility
- Owl: wisdom, foresight, intelligence, mystery
- Beaver: industriousness, building skills, determination, family
- Whale: strength, family, community, wisdom, creation, communication
What else is in Stanley Park?
Stanley Park is a large public park located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It covers an area of 1,001 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in North America. The park is situated on a peninsula that extends into the Burrard Inlet and is surrounded by water on three sides.
The park is named after Lord Stanley, who was the Governor General of Canada in 1888 when the park was first established. Stanley Park was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988 and is a popular tourist attraction that attracts over 8 million visitors annually.
It is home to an extensive network of trails and paths that are popular with joggers, walkers, and cyclists. The seawall, a paved pathway that runs along the park’s perimeter, offers stunning views of the city skyline, the North Shore Mountains, and the English Bay going all the way back to Canada Place and the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel at Canada Place.
The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and a large population of great blue herons. The Vancouver Aquarium, which is located within Stanley Park, is home to over 50,000 animals and is a popular attraction for families.
Where can I find the Totem Poles in Vancouver?
They are super easy to find. Just head to Stanley Park on foot, by bike or in a car/taxi. There is a dedicated walkway and separate bike path along the seawall from Canada Place. There is also a car park so you can drive there and park up.
Pro Tip: For good photos, I suggest visiting in the afternoon. In the morning the light is behind the Totem Poles so you don’t get such a good shot!
There is also a gift shop and small café on site.