BC Centennial Totem Restoration Project
Carved by hereditary Tsimshian Chief William Jeffrey (1898 – 1995) on behalf of the Government of British Columbia, the BC Centennial Totem Pole was gifted to Yukon in 1971 on the occasion of British Columbia’s 100th year since joining Confederation.
The British Columbia Government presented totem poles to each of the provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, to mark this event. In July of 1971, the totem was received in Whitehorse and a ceremony was held on July 28,1971 for its installation and presentation.
The four figures on the totem pole – Eagle, Wolf, Raven and Grizzly Bear – represent the principal crests of four Tsimshian clans.
Recognizing the importance of the territory’s cultural heritage, and of coming together to learn and adapt methods to care for and respect these items, a restoration project was undertaken to revive and preserve the totem after it had stood in place for 45 years.
Between 1971 and 2016, the totem pole stood outside the Government of Yukon Main Administration Building along Second Avenue and was cared for as part of the Yukon government’s collection of public art.
Traditionally, totem poles have been left to deteriorate naturally over time but contemporary First Nation and art preservation practices now support restoration to retain their cultural significance and honour the skill of the artists and the art form.
In July of 2016, with the permission of Chief William Jeffrey’s family, a restoration project was undertaken, beginning with a small lowering ceremony involving local First Nation advisors.
The Department of Tourism and Culture’s Arts Section worked with Andrew Todd, the leading totem pole conservator in Canada, to restore the totem. Keith Wolfe Smarch and Aaron Smarch (lead and assistant carvers with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation carving program) assisted with the restoration, which included surface cleaning, applying new paint and a protective coating, and repairing damaged areas.
The Government of Yukon worked with a planning committee made up of members of the Jeffrey family, the restoration team, and Yukon First Nation advisors to ensure traditional knowledge, protocols and the wishes of the family were respected and incorporated throughout the project.
Upon its reinstallation and unveiling, the totem will be routinely examined and maintained by Arts Section staff and conservators as appropriate.