Mid March 2019
Ever wondered how FN coastal totem poles are designed and carved? I have seen so many in my hometown on northern Vancouver Island, but until now I have never had the opportunity to use the tools and carve! Today we traveled an hour north of Smithers to Hazelton, Gitanmaax and ‘Ksan Historical Village.
We continued to experience clear road conditions, blue skies, and temperatures between -10 and 4 degrees as we traveled north. Landscapes consisted of a variety of snow capped mountain peaks, snowy fields, fairly thin evergreens or bare deciduous trees, and frozen lakes. The rivers were starting to break free and water was starting to escape through the centers of the frozen surfaces. meandering paths of footprints in the snow made me wonder about their source. What types of animals frequented these areas? Single car width metal bridges spanned the deep gorge at Hagwilget.
We departed from the main highway at New Hazelton exploring back roads and discovered a gem! ‘Ksan Historical Village was a beautiful community of First Nations big houses and totem poles in a setting beside a frozen river surrounded by snow capped mountains. Mark and I were excited to explore this historic village. Although this was definitely ‘off season’ we were able to walk around the grounds reading all the signs and appreciating the beauty of the totem poles, Big Houses, and natural setting. We discovered one door was propped open and when we peeked at the entrance a person’s voice welcomed us to come inside.
Dan Yunkws taught us a great deal about his culture and the vast amount of time, energy, thought, planning, and pride that is involved in creating totem poles. We were able to view, and even assist in carving, several of the poles which will be raised and placed at the new PetroCanada gas station near the ‘Ksan village. Dan shared his knowledge about designing a totem, symbolism of the clans, politics of working as a team, history of the area, and how tools were used. Dan even taught Mark and I how to use 2 different tools to slowly and carefully chip off small pieces of wood. It is a time consuming, repetitive procedure which takes skill to produce clean smooth surfaces. No wonder he does the faces last! What a fascinating, memorable experience.
Thanks Dan. Check out his fb page. Daniel L Yunkws. I strongly encourage people interested in learning more about First Nations culture to visit the ‘Ksan Historical Village near Hazelton. Perhaps you will even get a chance to meet Dan and try working on a totem pole!
Only a few minutes away is the Historic Old town of Hazelton. This is another really interesting town to check out from the historic paddle-wheeler and wagon on the roof, to the modern Mercedes Beans coffee and gift shop.
Then we were off once again, heading west to the coast and ocean via Terrace to Prince Rupert.