On Baseline Road beside the Walmart Super Centre, there is a fading old totem pole, towering 60 feet over the bustling city traffic, sitting grandly in front of the Scouts Canada National Headquarters. Having passed by this sentinel many times, I often imagine it one day toppling over Baseline Road, its top bird beak skewering a car below it like a shish kabob. Aside from that, I also think of what the story is behind this amazing totem pole, a somewhat forgotten and fading old soul beside the Walmart…who carved it and why is it there?….
This is the Tale of the Totem.
Photography by @oldmanloudwife
Carved in 1960 by Chief Mungo Martin, of the Kwakiutl Tribe and his grandson Henry Hunt, Ottawa’s totem pole has been weathering away at its post for almost 60 years. Most of the carving was done in Victoria, B.C. where Chief Martin was a prominent figure in Northwest Coast style of aboriginal art, specifically that of the Kwakwaka’wakw eople who live in the area of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The pole was gifted to Ottawa from the British Columbia Scouts, and cost approximately $8,000 in 1960 to carve and paint from a BC cedar tree.
The towering totem consists of 6 main figures; a Raven, a Man, a Grizzly Bear, a Cannibal Woman, a Killer Whale, and a Beaver. These were all clan crests of the tribes that Chief Martin was closely related, and hence forth placed on the Ottawa totem.
The raven on the top represents “Gwawina” a raven that came to the earth and transformed into a man, which is the the second figure. The grizzly is the bear Kyelem, that also transformed into a man, and the woman is Tsonoqua the Cannibal Woman.
The Killer Whale is Makinukw, a supernatural whale. The Beaver on the bottom is Tsawa, who gave birth to a half beaver, half human son.
When it was completed in British Columbia, the totem was transported on rail two cars to Ottawa where it was hoisted in 1961 in front of the Scouts Canada building. The totem’s base is ten feet long and was anchored in over 75 tons of concrete at the base.
It would only be a year after Chief Mungo Martin’s totem was erected in Ottawa that he would pass away in 1962, leaving behind his legacy through various totem poles across North America, and one totem pole in Windsor Great Park in the United Kingdom. That Totem Pole was a gift from the people of Canada to Her Majesty The Queen in June, 1958.
Ottawa’s great totem remains on Baseline Road, its once vibrant colours fading with each passing year. It has endured the harsh winds and weather of Ottawa winters for 56 years and has welcomed many a Scout into the National Headquarters in that time.
The next time you pass by the great totem of Baseline Road, you might want to wave to the great spirit who lies within its weathered wood.
Andrew King, September, 2016
With special thanks to @oldmanloudwife for the photos used with permission.
The Scout Leader, Vol.XXXVIII Number 4, January 1961
Wonderful story thank you for the details, I had no idea.
Traditionally, the poles are usually left to age and fade in place until they fall or rot away. Totems rarely last more than 60 or 80 years. But this one may last longer because it has been encased in cement at the bottom, preventing rot. The ageing of the pole represents the natural process of decay and death that happens with all living things.
I just love all of these stories Andrew. 🙂 great job. You need to have your own television show like William Shatner. Love it. I. Bet you could find plenty of material.
Cheers Linn Carroll.
Sent from my iPad
I am crackers for the artwork of the Pacific Northwest! I have an interest in totem poles. thank you for sharing this one.
I just thought you might like to know that Scouts Canada is in the initial stages of a project to restore this totem pole. Stay tuned for details.
That’s great news Wendy! Such an iconic piece of Baseline Raod…can’t wait to see it restored!
What a great story! I’ve passed it many times since the 80’s and wondered about it.
I received your book2 for this Xmas and I came across this article. I just wanted to let you know that this pole has been restored once before. I believe this work was done by a conservator from the Canadian Conservation Institute. She spent a summer on scaffolding cleaning, consolidating and repainting the pole. I am not sure of the date. Probably between 1979 and 1983.
That’s very interesting, thanks for the note. Glad to know it is being looked after. ~Ak