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Native presence: Local carver brings Haida art back to life

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

By Katherine Lemay (Manotick Messenger)

According to legend, in early eighteenth century British Columbia, a raven clan member of the Haida tribe was inspired to carve the first totem pole after discovering an underwater village. He then found a cedar tree, procured a homemade chisel and constructed the world’s first totem pole. With it standing tall besides the door to his abode, the native Indian (sic) proudly displayed his work of art to any passing visitors.

Today, Bill Tomlinson will bring the native history to his cottage on the St. Lawrence River. The Manotick businessman has commissioned Peter Van Adrichem, of Manotick, to custom- build a totem pole to accompany the rest of his collection of native art that will decorate the chalet.

"I just wanted something a little bit unique and it's decorated in Indian theme. I like the Indian (sic) history," said Tomlinson.

ln order to imitate Haida style, Tomlinson and Van Adrichcm researched and studied various historics and art samples of Canada's aboriginals. They decided on this particular tribe because of their values. "Haida were really gifted with some of these skills. They would live on the coast and always came back to the same villages. I suppose they were a peaceful band," said Tomlinson. Tomlinson wanted to model as closely as possible the original totem poles and decided to use red cedar from BC, which he found sitting in Guelph with its fate unknown.

The tree had originally been bought by Ottawa's local hydro company to be used as an electricity pole; however, the company decided they did not want to pay for such a large trunk. Tomlinson was able to purchase the wood for $3,000.

A red cedar is a very durable wood that will last for many decades. The totem pole will stand 80 feet high and the circumference of its base is 6 feet.

"It's the biggest pole we could get. We were looking for something that had a good breadth," said Tomlinson.

This particular wood is very durable and will not have to be varnished or painted. Van Adrichem figures the life span of this totem pole will probably be 100 years.

"The red cedar is what [the native carvers in BC] always used. And it doesn't have to be treated or anything like that. The raw wood will just stay intact for years and years," he said.

Van Adrichem, a professional wood carver, owns Fleetwood Studios, his personal shop situated in Kemptville, Ontario where he carves all his fine art. Although he had been wood carving since childhood, chain-saw cutting is a new feat.

"Just something I picked up. I watched a few people doing it for a few days. I just started from there;" said Van Adrichem, who uses a small chainsaw with an eight inch long blade.

Tomlinson's totem pole will display figures reminiscent of the Haida tribe and specific shapes to symbolize his family.

"Some of them are related to his family. We've got two human figures towards the bottom end which represent his children. Then down at the very bottom there's the bear mother story with three human faces and each of the faces are his kids and one is his wife," said Van Adrichem..

The top of the totem pole will also feature a dragonfly to represent Tomlinson's love for speed, like fast cars and boats. There is also a human holding a salmon to represent the fish at his cottage.

Once the project is finished, Tomlinson will need an over-sized trucking permit from the Ministry of Transportation to move the pole to his cottage on the St. Lawrence River. Tomlinson will not be installing the pole the traditional way by digging a hole and pulling it up with homemade ropes.

"We're going to do it with a crane [and] it will go into granite. It won't move," he said.

Van Adrichem began the project on April 1 and plans to wrap up by the end of July. He is having an open house on July 26 and 27 to preview the totem pole to public. "We're inviting the public to come and take a look at the totem pole before it goes to its private owner," he said.

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