The Tallest Free-Standing Totem Pole (and Other Victoria Delights)

Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, has an odd claim to fame: it is home to the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole.

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Originally carved in 1956 from a 133-foot cedar tree, this 127-foot Kwakwaka’wakw (a.k.a. Kwakiutl) masterpiece is a highlight of a visit to Beacon Hill Park. But the average life span of a totem pole is about fifty years, so the impressive woodwork and painting here were the result of a major restoration project in the early 2000s.

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This thing is really huge — for a sense of scale, here it is with my friend Andrea standing at the bottom:

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I should note that some dispute seems to be swirling around the term “totem pole.” Some First Nations people think that the phrasing is inaccurate, and that these should instead be called “legend poles” or “story poles.” I am calling them “totem poles” here because that’s how they are signed, but I want to acknowledge that this may not be the ideal terminology.

The Beacon Hill Story Pole, as this is monument is formally known, overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca:

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You can take a lovely walk along the water here.

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Beacon Hill Park is a lovely urban getaway …

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… complete with all sorts of beautiful plantings …

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… and wildflowers …

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… and ducks …

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… and peacocks!

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We followed this guy around for a while …

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… waiting to catch him in all of his resplendent glory:

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Just at the edge of the park lies mile 0 of the Trans-Canada highway:

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Just a few blocks south of this sits Thunderbird Park, home to totem poles from First Nations peoples including Gitxsan, Haida, and Kwakwaka’wakw.

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But the most prominent feature of this park is Wawadit’la, a Kwakwaka’wakw “big house,” which created by Mungo Martin — the same carver who took the lead in building the world’s tallest totem pole.

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I only had a little over an hour in Victoria — the rest of my time was spent visiting the university — but what I saw of it, I really liked. My eastern Canadian friends think that Victoria is a bit stale  (they say that it’s for either “newlyweds, flowerbeds, and nearly deads” or “newlyweds, nearly deads, and Satanists” (the latter apparently for the city’s secret satanic cults). But I would love to return to see more of Victoria and its surroundings.

The city itself aside, one of the best things about Victoria is getting there! To reach the city from Vancouver, you take a 90-minute ride on a large ferry across the Salish Sea.

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On a clear day, you can spend the whole voyage out on the deck — though you’ll need to be prepared for some pretty windy conditions!

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We’d been told we might have orca or dolphin sightings, but we scoured the sea for them in vain. Instead of mammals, we saw boats …

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… and seaplanes …

… and large islands with small lighthouses:

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As you leave Victoria, the ferry ride offers views out across the Olympic range …

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… and you eventually can see all the way to majestic, snow-covered Mount Baker (the third-highest mountain in Washington State) …

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… which comes into full view — along with the rest of the Cascade Range — as you get closer to Vancouver:

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I spent a lot of time looking at the boat’s wake …

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… and our Canadian flag …

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… generally enjoying the whole ferry boat experience!

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One response to “The Tallest Free-Standing Totem Pole (and Other Victoria Delights)

  1. Pingback: 5 BC Universities | Traveler Tina·

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