A new totem pole and accompanying exhibition will be on display at Emily Carr University on September 29 in honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Master carvers Dempsey Bob (Tahltan-Tlingit), Stan Bevan (Tahltan-Tlingit and Tsimshian), and Lyonel Grant (Māori and Pakeha) collaborated on the Pacific Song of the Ancestors totem pole. An accompanying art exhibit will tell the story of its creation.
“The pole, which tells the migration story of the wolves, eagles, and grizzly bears, exemplifies the cultural relevance of movement, migration, exploration, and our connection to our land,” says Bob in a statement. “The movement of the figures points to this southward migration, with the eagle and wolf heads protruding downward, out of the traditional totem pole into a sculptural expression. The deeper carvings, the projected figures and the flowing hair make this work come to life.”
While the 25-foot, 2,600-pound pole has been in the works for the last eight years, its backstory shows the longstanding connections and relations between communities in northern BC and Emily Carr’s own Aboriginal Gathering Place (AGP).
Brenda Crabtree (Spuzzum Band), the recently retired director of Aboriginal Programs and special advisor to the president on Indigenous initiatives at Emily Carr, helped create the bonds through an articulation agreement with the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace. That school was founded in 2006 by Bob, Bevan, and Ken McNeil (Tahltan-Tlingit and Nisga’a), and was named for Bob’s late mentor.
The Pacific Song of the Ancestors pole, therefore, serves as both a tribute to Freda as well as a way to honour the work that the AGP does in building connections to Nations and communities in northern and rural BC.
“The AGP at Emily Carr has always focused on celebrating the diversity of our Indigenous students, faculty, and staff,” says Crabtree in a press release. “We don’t often see Tahltan-Tlingit art in Vancouver, so for me, this project is about connecting with Indigenous artists from other communities, learning about and honouring their artistic traditions, and providing an opportunity for the public to experience this diversity.”
Carved largely at Bevan’s studio in Terrace, the pole was moved to the AGP in 2021 and finished during summer 2022 with help from visiting carver Lyonel Grant from Aotearoa (New Zealand).
September 29 marks the first day the pole will be on display, as well as the final day that the behind-the-scenes exhibition will be shown for. It’s open to the public, and runs from early morning until late.
The timing is deliberate, coinciding with National Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30—a day that was enshrined as a statutory holiday in the province earlier this year.
“This whole project is about community, communication, and respect for Indigenous art, education, and culture,” says Crabtree. “The artists will tell you this is the most sculptural pole they’ve ever created—a refined work of art. For Emily Carr University to house this masterpiece that will inspire the public and generations of students, well, it’s simply priceless.”
When: September 29, 7:30am to 8pm
Where: Northwest corner of the Emily Carr University campus building outside the Reliance Theatre, 520 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver