The Centennial Gardens Totem Pole

Background on the Centennial Gardens Totem Pole

The Centennial Gardens TotemCentennial Gardens Totem Pole Pole has been located in Centennial Gardens for 51 years. As with any object fabricated from natural materials, the totem pole has been subject to the effects of the seasons. The wood from which the totem pole is made has begun to deteriorate and the totem pole is reaching the end of its lifespan in its current form and location.


The totem pole is currently undergoing restoration efforts. It was successfully removed on Dec. 17, 2019, and will be stored for drying, restored and re-installed.

After two analyses of the condition of the totem pole in 2018, the pole was identified as being in a deteriorating state, with decay in the centre. Following extensive public engagement in 2018, a staff report provided City Council recommendations relating to the future of the totem pole at Council's Aug. 12, 2019 meeting. Council approved a recommendation to take down the totem pole to restore it.

History of the Centennial Gardens Totem Pole

The Centennial Gardens Totem Pole was commissioned in 1966 by the City of St. Catharines for $6,800. The totem pole was shipped to St. Catharines by train and erected by a crane in 1967 for Canada's Centennial. In the early-to mid-1960s the nation was nearing its 100th anniversary of Confederation and communities across the country sought ways to commemorate that historical event. Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw artist, Doug Cranmer of the ʼNa̱mǥis Nation was commissioned to create a totem pole for our Centennial Gardens.


At the top of the totem pole is a thunderbird, representing the omnipotence of the conqueror and ruler of the skies and a helpful spirit. The Thunderbird is credited with creating the storms. It's believed to live high in the mountains and carry lightening bolts under its enourmous wings. When he blinked lightning came out of his eyes, and when he flapped his wings thunder roared.


Bear holding Copper

Next on the totem pole is a bear holding copper symbolizing great power and authority on earth; copper in a ceremonial symbol of wealth and high rank. For the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, the copper symbolizes wealth. Each copper has its own name, history and value. Sometimes a Chief would break a copper to show that he was so wealthy that he could afford to damage such a valuable object. The value of a copper rises each time the copper changes hands. The purchase of a copper, its sale or destruction, are all events that occur at a potlatch. For more information on Potlach click here.


Cedar Man

Below the bear is a Cedar Man. The Cedar Man was a tree that transformed into a man and became an ancestor to the Kwakwaka'wakw. The cedar tree is called the tree of life and every part is utilized. 



Next, the Sisiyutł is a double-headed serpent and one of the most powerful figures in Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw tradition. The Sisiyutł has a frightening snake-like body with two serpent heads that extend in opposite directions from the human-like face in the centre. Curved horns protrude from each serpent head, and two horns extend from the central human head. Red tongues, often elongated, stick out from each snake-like mouth.

A Sisiyutł has powerful abilities of transformation and can change into a salmon or even a canoe. To touch or see the dangerous Sisiyutł means certain death. However, for some, particularly warriors, Sisiyutł brings supernatural power. A drop of Sisiyutł blood can cause a warrior's skin to turn to armor. The skin of a Sisiyutł is said to make a belt that allows the person wearing it to perform superhuman feats.

The image of Sisiyutł is often displayed as a family crest, and is painted or carved on house fronts and panels, totem poles and ceremonial objects. Sisiyutł can also be a długwe’, which is a treasure or supernatural power.




Lastly, a Raven at the bottom symbolizes a creator. Its acquisition brought wealth, power and wisdom to the family. In the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture the Raven is known as the messengaer of the sky and famous for being a somewhat mischievous glutton. He's always out to please himself and to have a good time. He's very adventurous. He is a benevolent figure who helps the people, but at the same time, he is also a trickster character and many Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw stories about the Raven have to do with his frivolous or poorly thought out behaviour getting him into trouble.


Doug Cranmer 

Doug Cranmer a Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw artist was born in Alert Bay on January 18, 1927. Not only was he the hereditary chief of the ʼNa̱mǥis Nation but he was also a carver and artist that played a significant role in the Northwest Coast art movement that has contributed to the history of Indigenous Art in Canada. 

In the 1950s, Doug recieved his first formal carving instruction. His work has been displayed nationally and internationally and is a part of many public and private collections. An internationally renowned master carver, his contributions to art history play a crucial role in training the next genertation of upcoming artists and historians. 

History of Totem Poles 

Totem poles are monuments created by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. Totem poles are typically created out of red cedar and are erected to be visible within a community.

Most totem poles display beings, or crest animals, marking a family’s lineage and validating the powerful rights and privileges that the family holds. Totem poles do not necessarily tell a story so much as serve to document stories and histories familiar to community members or particular family or clan members.

Across the world the totem pole is falsely seen as a symbol of all Indigenous North American peoples. The carving of totem poles is an ancient cultural tradition that originated on the west coast of North America with First Nations such as the Tsimshian, Haida, Tlingit, Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, Nuxalt and Coast Salish. Each group has their own carving styles and traditions. 

Copyright © 2014 The Corporation of the City of St. Catharines