Famed Indigenous carver’s 57-year old totem returns home to his family
For BC Ferries, it started with an idea, followed by months of homework and logistical planning.
For the family of a renowned B.C. Indigenous carver, it became an unexpected gift, a piece of their heritage that allows them to honour and remember their deceased brother.
In the late night of Aug. 28 and into the early hours of Aug. 29, a crew of BC Ferries workers disconnected, picked up with a crane and transferred to a truck the totem pole that had for years sat on a concrete plinth in front of the Horseshoe Bay terminal in preparation for its journey home to Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver Island, where the carver’s family waited.
It was a journey months — and decades — in the making.
An enthusiastic ‘yes’
In 1966, BC Ferries commissioned a series of totem poles to be placed on its properties to mark the Canadian Centennial the following year. One, a bear totem standing approximately four metres (13 feet) tall, was created by Tony Hunt Sr., who was then about 24 years old and would go on to a long and prestigious career as an artist while also eventually fulfilling his role as Chief Nakapenkem of the Hunt family of Tsakis (Fort Rupert). Tony Sr. was the eldest of six sons of another famed artist, Henry Hunt, and trained under his maternal grandfather, the legendary Mungo Martin.
Carved from Western redcedar, the totem depicts a bear in the Haida style along with a chief wearing a hat or helmet, and both characters have, for more than 50 years, watched ferry travellers come and go from Horseshoe Bay, next to the self-ticketing entrance to the terminal.
Last year, Mehran Zargham, BC Ferries’ then new regional manager, terminal maintenance for the Horseshoe Bay region, noticed some rot and wear on the totem pole that raised concerns about safety and stability. The company hired an engineering firm to design an attachment to hold it in place while it searched for a long-term solution for the pole.
Toni Edenshaw, Indigenous relations liaison for BC Ferries, reached out to the Hunt family to determine if they would like the totem pole returned to their land at Kwakiutl First Nation. The answer was an enthusiastic “yes” and their plans included restoring the pole to something close to its original glory.
‘I’m going to bring it back’
“I just find that amazing,” says Stanley Clifford Hunt, Tony Sr.’s brother and an acclaimed carver himself. “Just the thought of being able to restore our brother’s totem pole is a huge honour. Tony and I were really close. It’s just a huge honour for me and, I know, for our family that we would get to see and help one of Tony’s totem poles be restored and be on display again. I was excited about it.
“I’m going to bring it back to as good a life as I can,” he adds. “It is pretty old.”
Stanley, whose Indigenous name is Kwakwabalsome, and eight members of his family were on hand Aug. 29 when two BC Ferries employees who’d lifted the totem pole on to a 42-foot tandem-axle crane truck and driven it on to the Queen of Cowichan earlier in the day, arrived with their precious cargo following a four-hour drive north from Departure Bay in Nanaimo. The Hunts helped ensure it was placed gently on wooden cribbing and talked about Tony and his life, Stanley says.
“We were doing it with utmost care and with utmost respect and so much emotion for us all,” he says, adding, “I looked at it the next morning, I looked out in the backyard and there it is, looking back at me.”
Stanley, who recently completed a ceremonial tour of western Canada with his six-metre-tall carved monument to Indigenous children who attended residential schools, says once the pole’s restoration is complete — it will get new paint and may require some wood to be added and carved — it will be placed in the graveyard “beside where Tony is resting.”
‘It’s something to be respected’
Zargham, who’s a mechanical engineer, notes the months of preparation that went into the move, planning for every eventuality, from building supports for the totem pole to disconnecting and moving electrical wires so the crane would work unimpeded.
And there were other considerations.
“From the beginning of our planning,” he says, “we understood the importance of respecting the totem pole. It’s not just a wooden structure, it’s cultural heritage, it was something to be respected, and we had to ensure that proper procedures and processes were taken care of for moving it.”
Based on Stanley’s advice, crews knew they could not let the pole touch the ground or even, while suspended, a tree, out of respect.
‘Tony’s legacy will live on forever’
Stanley Hunt says it was “incredibly gracious” of BC Ferries to offer to repatriate the pole, allowing him to “restore it to as best as it can be restored, and then to put it up again in memory of Tony.”
But he points out that his brother’s memory is already powerful. “We sit in our shop and reminisce about our lives and how Tony impacted us, and gifts that he gave us. And we need to carry those on — walk with our heads up and be proud of who we are.
“Tony’s legacy will live on forever,” he adds, noting that legacy includes not only carvings that can be found in museums throughout the world but, also, the works and careers of the dozens of artists he trained.
Closer to home, though that bear totem pole means something more.
“When we look out now, we can feel Tony’s spirit.”
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BC Ferries, Media Relations
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Victoria: (250) 410-1465
Toll-free: 1-888-BCFERRY (1-888-223-3779)