Wilkes James Totem Pole

4858 Delta Street
Delta, BC

Built: 1931-32
 

This carved and painted totem pole, over 9.75 meters in height, is situated in front of the old Delta Municipal Hall (now the home of the Delta Museum and Archives) at the corner of Delta and Bridge Streets in the centre of historic Ladner village. This site is near to a precontact fishing camp, used by the Tsawwassen First Nation.

Status: Removed in 2013 due to its poor condition

Totem Pole - 2006
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Heritage Value

This totem pole is valued as a demonstration of community-driven projects, as a symbol of interconnection between the native and non-native communities and changing attitudes of the public towards a more inclusive vision of their community. It was carved by Chief Wilkes James of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a Coast Salish group in Nanaimo, and was crafted from a cedar felled on Lester W. Embree's North Delta property. The pole was carved over a period of four months from 1931 to 1932. It dates from a time when First Nations activities were severely restricted through legislation enacted by the Canadian government. Many ceremonies and artistic styles were lost to the First Nations during that time, until a cultural renaissance began in the 1970s.

Traditional motifs here are freely interpreted, and bright non-native 'paint box' colours were used to decorate the pole. Stylistic elements, such as carving in the round and realistic body proportions, are distinctly Coast Salish. Chief James (1875-1955) spoke Hul'qumi'num and reputedly was one of only three native carvers at the time. The pole was carved as a memento of his wife's Tsawwassen roots and was officially presented to Delta Council on July 1, 1932.

The pole is also valued as a symbol of the aboriginal community in Delta, and was erected in part to interpret the art and legends of the Coast Salish. The pole portrays the first Tsawwassen settler, Tsaatsen, in his journey from Mount Cheam, and the characters he meets along the way; the eagle who was his guide, and the bear and deer that supplied him with food and clothing.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Totem Pole include its:

  • tall, vertical form and prominent scale
  • interpretation of traditional Coast Salish stylistic qualities, such as the illustration of story through art, carving in the round, open uncarved space, geometric symbols and the incorporation of face painting on human figurines
  • five figures, from top to bottom; eagle, bear, Tsaatsen, wolf mask and beaver
  • associated site features, such as foundation plantings, hedges, adjacent street trees, the historic 1912 Delta Municipal Hall and the 1932 Ladner Clock Tower