Carver honours late mother with B.C. city’s first totem pole in three decades

Lyle Campbell and his team laboured through pandemic conditions to deliver pole on time

For the first time in 30 years, onlookers gazed skyward as a totem pole raising ceremony took place in a coastal B.C. city on Aug. 11.

Matriarchs and women of the territory started the pole raising ceremony by blessing the totem pole with cedar in Prince Rupert, which is located on B.C.’s north coast.

The memorial pole was carved by Haida carver Lyle Campbell to honour his late mother, Alice Campbell.

“I am just happy that it’s done and that it’s standing proper, we honoured the Creator, we honoured our ancestors, and we honoured my mother today,” shared Campbell standing with his wife Kim at the ceremony.

Haida Carver Lyle Campbell in front of his late mother’s house giving thanks to Tsimshian carver Eric Gray. Photo: Lee Wilson/APTN

The group of carvers performed a ceremonial dance and song around the pole. Their work was now complete.

Carvers from many coastal nations lent a hand to complete the project by working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brothers Jason and Johnathan Watts of Nisga’a/Haida Nation, Eric Gray, a Tsimshian carver, and Larry Thompson from the Haida Nation all played a role in carving the project.

Campbell shared the story of an elderly woman who came to visit as they worked.

“She walked around the pole one day when I was carving, went all the way and came all the way back. She was smiling at us, she patted me on the hands and she said, ‘In my life this is the first time I have ever seen this’,” said Campbell. “That really hit home, it made me realize this is greatly important to people.”

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The raising of this totem pole received support in many forms.

Campbell acknowledged the sacrifices his family made, especially his wife, as he spent the last few months focused on the project.

“We got a new little baby in our life. She is just over seven months old. In order for me to be here, my wife basically had to take care of her and I was working sometimes 12 hours a day plus,” shared Campbell.

Support also came from the Tsimshian people of Prince Rupert to raise the memorial pole in their traditional territory.

Bandstra Transportation Systems, a moving company, donated their time to take the log from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert.

The carving was funded by donations of money and food, which people would drop off as the carvers worked.

Even the trucking company who raised the pole donated their time: The 30-foot pole was raised by a crane system due to COVID-19 restrictions on crowd size.

The totem pole, completed and raised in ceremony, stands in front of Alice Campbell’s house. Photo: Lee Wilson/APTN

The final piece, an eagle, was placed on top of the totem pole to finish off the ceremony, the crest or clan of Alice Campbell.

Lyle Campbell is grateful for the community helping complete the project. The carvers shared a message that when you lift one woman, you are lifting all women.

“When you have something of such importance, lifting up my mom and honouring her this way was honouring all women across our country. Kind of bringing attention to that fact, we need to honour our women,” said Campbell.

On the sixth anniversary of Alice Campbell’s passing, a memorial pole is now standing in front of her house.

A dream a mother once shared with her son is now a reality.

The Haida carver, along with Tsimshian carver Eric Gray plan to meet with the City of Prince Rupert and build of this success.

They will propose a deal to complete a series of totem poles that will be raised annually.

“I am going to propose an idea for 10 poles for 10 years for Prince Rupert. I want nine out of the 10 poles to be Tsimshian poles representing the Nine Allied Tribes. Just wanting to build on the momentum we started here. “

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