World’s Tallest

Time for a change from the more abstract photographs I have dwelt on in the past few posts to something more tangible, even if deeply imbued with symbolic meanings. I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people that are repelled, rather than attracted, by claims of the world’s mostest something or other. For this reason I have never had a close look at “The World’s Tallest Totem Pole” which is located in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. The pole is tall, apparently 127 1/2 feet, but these days is not nearly the tallest; there are others over 170 feet tall. Camera in hand, I had a closer look at the pole than I have been inclined to do for decades. It is far more three dimensional than it seems from a distance and so I am glad I finally had a close look. And the fresh paint is crisp, the colours interesting. These pictures present some aspects of pole, and of the nearby bronze and granite plaque that tells the story carved into the pole. On Friday I will present another aspect of the pole which I have never heard mentioned before.

This pole rises above the surrounding trees and is visible from various parts of the park.

The pole was carved by Mungo Martin of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) people of the north-east coast of Vancouver Island and adjacent archipelago and mainland areas, together with David Martin and Henry Hunt. Mungo Martin has a very important place in the history and revival of Northwest Coast Art – a web search will find many interesting things for those who would like to find out more.

The pole has recently been restored and is no longer entirely wood as parts were so rotted that they needed to be replaced. I don’t know if the bend shown below is from the original log, or a result of restoration activities. It is a bit disconcerting to see it leaning toward the ground, as if yearning to finally be at rest on the forest floor behind.

.

.

.

I have earlier done a series of posts on the cairns that mark some Songhees First Nation places and stories in Oak Bay near where I live. This pole and cairn is really in that same spirit, just bigger, taller, the mostest.

One thing that did strike me was that the boulder which holds the plaque is very similar in appearance and size to a collection of boulders that are ancient burial cairns on the nearby Beacon Hill. I wonder if one of those cairns, which marked graves of important people in the past, has been repurposed to mark another aboriginal story and bring it into the future. It is not necessarily so, but in the mid 1950’s when this spot was marked, it could have happened with no one thinking twice about whether it would be appropriate. I would like to think that perhaps it was chosen (from elsewhere) because it is sympathetic to those burial stones. While racism was rampant at that time, the BC Provincial Museum as it was then called, and where Mungo Martin was employed, did have some phenomenally sensitive and far seeing staff, most notably Wilson Duff, who, were he involved in the cairn design, would have thought about the nearby burial cairn rocks. As would the carvers themselves if they knew of them.

Below are detailed images of the marker included since it gives the story of this pole. Like other Northwest Coast totem poles it is not a totem, but more akin to the complicated crests of some European nobility which display and tell history, rights and title of a noble family and their people.

.

.

.

.

.

10 thoughts on “World’s Tallest

    • Hi Jane – thank you for coming by. I still find it very strange that we both posted about a Mungo Martin pole on the same day on opposite sides of the world. There is a lot of information about the Northwest Coast poles available on the internet. For instance there is a Facebook page about Haida Totem Poles that has a lot of great historical photos. In London there is one of the finest Haida poles of all time (a very old one) in the British Museum – last time I saw it it was in a back stairwell so you could look at it from different levels. Kwakwaka’wakw poles and masks and other carvings are also represented in the collections of the Museum of Mankind, but not sure if they are on display. Another good place to find Northwest Coast art is the Horniman Museum.

      Like

      • You might want to track down a copy of Hilary Stewart’s book Looking at Totem Poles – I am sure you can get it for a reasonable price from abebooks.com (30 currently listed, starting at $1) or in one of the many terrific bookstores in London.

        Like

  1. Pingback: First Nation War Memorial « burnt embers

  2. Wow – These are beautiful!! Amazing how large the Totem is!! Great perspective. It reminds me of the Totems in Sitka Alaska – they are not as tall but are magnificant none the less. Great work.
    Best Regards
    Jim

    Like

    • Hi Jim – thank you for your nice words. It is pretty amazing – imagine the amount of time it must have taken to carve it. I bet they did not erect it in the traditional way with ropes and human muscle like this.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: