365 Canadian Sights | Day 287: The Totem Poles of Alert Bay

| Image from Flickr/Alan via CC BY 2.0 |

With dozens of poles on Cormorant Island, this is actually a twofer in some ways. The most famous one is pretty easy to pick out of the crowd. It’s the one that’s taller than a 15 storey building.

At more than 52 m in total height, it’s the tallest in the world in an absolute sense, though some don’t think it should count since it’s in two sections. However, being that one section is more than 49 m, that’d still make it the tallest.

This is a double sight, though, because just down the road on the tiny island are many other poles, around 30 according to a recent brochure from the municipality.

Totem poles are probably the most famous piece of culture to come from First Nations peoples on the west coast of North America. Hand-carved with very specific styles and meanings, they’ve become iconic to the region. While many represent a specific family, the big pole represents some of the families of the Kwakwaka’wakw, the people of the region. Raised in 1973 it’s getting close to 50 years watching over the ‘Namgis First Nation Big House in Alert Bay (or Yalis, as it was historically known).

Capturing the biggest pole in one photo might be difficult, since it’s a rather skinny compared to its height, but shooting from back a bit will capture the true height of it. Luckily it’s in an open area.

Alert Bay and Cormorant Island (which the community essentially covers) have a wealth of culture and history for those interested in the First Nations of the West Coast. While the tall totem is an attention grabber and epic sight, there are the other totem poles, historic sites and a cultural centre run by locals.

Alert Bay is just off the coast of Vancouver Island, so getting there isn’t quick, but should be easy enough to do with a car. Starting from Victoria there’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive to Port McNeil, with a ferry ride to Cormorant Island. Being that Alert Bay covers most of the island, once you disembark from the ferry, you’re a short drive or walk to the totem. There is an airport on the island, but there aren’t any regularly scheduled flights.

TripAdvisor doesn’t actually list the totem pole, I think because it’s not really a park or administered spot, and because it’s not part of a typical tourism spot. Atlas Obscura does have a profile though, so check that out.

The city’s website offers all the info you’ll need to see the pole.

Editor’s Notes —This is an updated version of the post I published last year when I took the first swing at this project.

Photos • FeaturedGallery 1Gallery 2Gallery 3

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