The Bowen Lodge Totem Pole

The following was retrieved from the Bowen Island Lodge’s archives and is displayed below with permission.

It is one of the first documents we are releasing as part of the Camp Bowen History project.


The Bowen Lodge Totem Pole was carved in 1926 by a member of the Sechelt Band, from a cedar tree estimated to be 500 years old. The pole was commissioned by the Union Steamships and stood in front of their offices in Bowen Village until 1961, when they offered it as a welcoming gift to the new arrival, CNIB.

The Totem & Its Spirit Symbols

It is a typical Salish pole, as per the three colors used – red, black and green. The black paint was made from a plant called devil’s club, which was an Indian medicine plant; the red from a sacred mountain called “tumuth’; the green from the top of the devil’s club, which is the plant part of it. They mixed in deer marrow.

“Reading” the pole from the top-down:

  • The first figure is an eagle, which is a spirit messenger in Native culture.
  • The second figure is a black fish, which is a spirit messenger of the underworld.
  • The killer wale, guardian of the underworld, is the third figure.
  • The fourth figure is a transformation figure, which represents the Chief being transformed into a bear.
  • The fifth figure is a frog.
  • The sixth figure would be the Chief, fully transformed into a bear.
  • The next figure is another frog, which is another transformation figure.
  • The bottom of the pole is a black bear. It represents the clan of the tribe.

This is a spiritual pole. The story it tells is of the powers that the Natives related to these spirits; when they sang a song and danced to them. The white spots are supposed to be eyes, representing access to the spirit world. They protect the dances, when they enter the spirit world, because they can see the evil spirits.

CNIB’s 75th Anniversary

CNIB’s 75th anniversary was in 1992. One of the BC – Yukon’s division anniversary projects was to have the pole restored. The then Executive Director applied to the BC Ministry of Tourism and Culture for financial assistance.

The Restoration

The Province agreed to finance the restoration and Master Carver, Stan Joseph of the Garibaldi Estates in Squamish, BC was commissioned to do the work. Mr. Joseph had been restoring Pacific North West totem poles in Canada, Japan, Germany and England for 16 years. BC Hydro supplied a crane to hoist the pole out of the ground and lay it out flat.

The pole was stripped of paint and loose wood. Wings were made for the eagle from 1’ x 12” strips of laminated red cedar. The cracks and holes in the pole were filled with cold cure and then it was sanded and painted. A special metal insert was made for the base of the pole to protect it from the earth and a metal brace was attached to the back of the pole for stability.

Pole Raising

When the pole was ready to stand upright again, a public dedication ceremony was held. It was attended by the local MLA for Victoria and the Local MP for Ottawa as well as the Bowen Island Community Heritage Committee.

There is a plaque recognizing the contribution of the Government of British Columbia.