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Rodeo, New Mexico
April 19, 2006
The Douglas Treaty in 1850 established Pellatsis, "place of cradles", a sacred village site for the Songhees in perpetuity. But perpetuity was short-lived when gold was discovered on the Fraser River and Victoria’s population boomed. By 1910, remaining Songhees families were paid $10,000 in exchange for their land. They resettled in more out-of-the-way Esquimalt, "place of shoaling waters" in Lekwungen language. The place of cradles is now a place of luxury condos and resorts.
Nuu'chah'nulth (Nootka) peoples lived from Victoria north, along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) peoples inhabited the eastern part of the island north of Campbell River. Click here for more information about the First Peoples of Vancouver Island.
Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Royal B.C. Museum, is a good place to view a bit of First Nations heritage. A small forest of totem poles, name posts, and grave figures stand among trees, near a Kwakwaka'wakw great house and carvers’ studio. Early totem poles, carved from cedar, represented family or clan, honored ancestors, or told a story. Often they were erected as part of the Potlatch ceremony, conducted for feasting, dancing, gift giving, and social status. Potlatching was declared illegal in Canada between 1885 and 1951, but took place secretively, when possible.
Thunderbird Park was established in 1940 on a vacant lot by British Columbia Provincial Museum. By the early 1950’s, the already aged poles were decaying rapidly. The museum invited Kwakwaka'wakw elder and master carver Mungo Martin to restore or replicate old poles, create new poles, and teach his art to young carvers. Though Mungo Martin died in 1962, the highly successful program continued on, with many renowned First Nations carvers.
Mungo Martin House anchors the park. A sea monster with giant teeth is painted across the front of it. The heraldic totem in front features pouty-lipped Dzunuk'wa. This non-human wild-woman of the woods searches for children to devour, but has poor eyesight and is easily fooled, so rarely catches any.
Three Haida poles stand more or less in a row, facing Douglas Street. Watchmen top two house poles, alert for danger or enemies. Halfway up the middle pole the Sea Chief’s eyes hang dangling from their sockets. This creature is said to live on a rock off the central coast of B.C. His eyes fall out of their sockets every night, but each morning his friends come by to replace them, so he can see to eat. The newest pole in Thunderbird Park was raised in 1999. During summers, the Echoes of Ancestry project provides mentoring for youthful First Nations carvers and artists.
From journal Victoria Heritage
New York, New York
April 16, 2002
I was very curious about the stories behind the poles and the many figures they depict. I would recommend asking some of the carvers in the carving shed some questions, or check out a book on the subject at your local library before your trip.
Here is a map and names of the totem poles in the park: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/totems/teacher/thund.htm
The Carillon Tower is another recognizable landmark in the Victoria skyline. This is a modern looking tower that was a gift from the Dutch who settled in British Columbia.
From journal Beautiful Victoria