A memorial totem pole carved and raised in Prince Rupert on Aug. 11, 2020 was the first in the city in more than 30 years, Lyle Campbell lead carver said of the project. The totem pole was erected at Campbell’s family residence on Second Ave. West. (Photo: Bo Millar)

Memorial totem pole raised in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole was a two year project led by local carver Lyle Campbell

A 40-foot memorial totem pole raised in Prince Rupert on Aug. 11 attracted more than 200 people to the afternoon ceremony where interested onlookers lined both sides of Second Ave. West.

The memorial pole was the first of it’s kind available for public viewing, raised in the city in more than 30 years, Lyle Campbell, lead carver on the project said.

The totem pole was carved by a team of more than ten regional artists. Campbell started the project in memory of his mother Alice Campbell, who was a Haida Gwaii matriarch and passed away six years to the day prior to the raising. The pole is standing tall in the front yard of the family residence just as his mother wanted, he said.

The whole project was a two year effort from finding the right pole, to felling, to shipping the red cedar log from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert, to carving, then to the final raising ceremonies, Campbell said.

Carving and painting the pole took four months in a shed in his P.R. front yard.

READ MORE: ‘She had the most amazing heart’: Haida carver raising money for mother’s memorial pole

“I knew we would have to do a lot of condensed carving time. From June 28 to July 28, I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week on it. The crew changed around. A whole host of carvers put their hands to it.”

For the design of the pole, Lyle said he was inspired by the Eagle Clan and crests of his family’s Stasdsta’aas people, such as a beaver, two eagles, butterfly, frog and 12 dragonflies.

While Campbell said he initially planned a small, family-only ceremony of 50 people, COVID-19 changed the afternoon happenings because many family members could not travel from Haida Gwaii due to pandemic restrictions. Campbell said he was extremely honoured that the Haida Nation blessed the attendance of Judy Williams and her partner Brian Bell. They were the only two attendees from Haida Gwaii. Willliams is St’langng Lanaas-Janaas clan Chief Skil Kwii’tTlaas and the only female Haida Nation Chief. She was Alice Campbell’s best friend.

“I was announcing to people that it was a closed ceremony – that we were going to have family and carvers only… But being that the City of Prince Rupert hasn’t seen a pole in about three decades, they were quite excited. People were coming and watching the whole event. It is quite something to see,” he said.

Usually a pole raising would be attended more than 3000 people Campbell said, followed by a traditional feast of close to 500 people. There would be lots of gift-giving, cultural singing, dancing and drumming.

In his effort to keep the event small Campbell didn’t plan any of that, however, impromptu cultural drumming and singing were initiated by attendees in the spirit of the memorial with blessing and awakening of the pole.

“Really what was seen yesterday was just one small facet of the culture. We did what we could on the spot,” he said.

Campbell said he thinks with people being shut in during the pandemic they are now eager to emerge and embrace events that are happening.

“I think they are quite starved to see things of this kind of nature happening, where people have done something very special,” he said.

READ MORE: Highway of Tears memorial totem pole to be raised on Kitsumkalum territory west of Terrace

Many donations and volunteers made the pole happen, Campbell said.

“Literally we had a zero budget when this started. We had no idea how this was going to happen. We had the vision and the will, and the drive. We were going to do this from our hearts and trust in the Creator that everything would be there that we need. And it was.”

“It is reflective that people just want to see this happen … The culture is here. It is alive. It is moving forward,” he said he is eager to spearhead a movement of re-introducing pole carving into the Prince Rupert community.

With files from Karissa Gall

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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