If you’ve walked along East Beach, you’ve probably noticed two tall totem poles in a small park along Marine Drive. You might have even seen them but wondered what they represent and the story behind the poles. Also known as the Grand Chief Bernard Memorial Plaza within Lions Lookout Park, Totem Park is centrally located along the promenade at White Rock Beach as a tribute to the Semiahmoo First Nation, as it rests on their native land. The poles were hand carved by a Haida and Coast Salish First Nation, Robert Davidson. He was commissioned by the RCMP in 1998 to create the totem poles in commemoration of the RCMP’s 125th anniversary. They were subsequently raised on April 25th, 1999 in celebration of the Semiahmoo traditional homelands, which included blessing the site in spiritual recognition of the significance of their land, as well as raising the poles according to their tradition.
The totem poles were carved using Western Red Cedars that are commonly found within traditional Haida and Coast Salish territories. The Haida peoples are Aboriginal people that originated from the Haida Gwaii Islands (Masset to the north, Skidegate to the south). Haida translates to “Island of the people”, and they were often found in one of two social groups — the Eagle or the Raven, sometimes referred to as clans. In 1787, British Captain George Dixon initiated trade with the Haida for sea-otter pelts, and the Haida remained at the core sea-otter trade for most of the 1800s. Today, the Haida are found in prosperous positions as famous artists, fishermen, or working in forestry, but remain a vital part of our cultural heritage throughout British Columbia.
The pole on the left (facing west) is the Coast Salish Housepost (“Ka’Kan”). It is a great significance to the Salish beliefs and traditions of the Semiahmoo people. The housepost is rooted in the creation of the living spirit of the tree that was used to create the pole. The pole stands tall as a sign of protection and love of the creator of all living nature.
The pole on the right (facing west) is the Haida Pole (“Gya ana”). The Haida peoples believe this to be a historical document that shows the crest of the creator or tell stories that date back to hundreds of years ago. This pole tells visitors about the Semiahmoo people that own the poles that welcomes visitors from all over the world. The poles also traditionally face the water to welcome guests coming from the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait). They also signify the Watch Men taking care of the community, which represents how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police take care of our community.
For more information, come on down to East Beach and check the poles out yourself! You’re sure to be amazed at their size and the stories rooted within them.
The best way to get to Totem Park (Grand Chief Bernard Memorial Plaza) is Marine Drive and turning into the parking lot at the foot of the hill separating East Beach and West Beach (across from Moby Dicks Fish & Chips).