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The Totems of the Cowichan

Totem Pole at Cowichan Center, Duncan B.C.

The first vacation I took with a digital camera was to Seattle, Victoria and Tofino (both on Vancouver Island), and the city of Vancouver. One of the highlights of that trip was a visit to Duncan on Victoria Island, roughly midway between Victoria and Nanaimo. The city bills itself as “The City of Totems,” mostly because of the large number of totem poles created by the Cowichan First Nation. At he time (2004), there was a very active visitor center with a restaurant containing Cowichan delicacies and even a program of native dancing.

On that particular vacation, I was traveling alone. Five years later, I repeated my itinerary from 2004. One of the biggest disappointments was the Cowichan visitor center in Duncan. Over a period of five years, neglect had set in. Many of the buildings, including the restaurant, were closed. It seems as if the center were re-positioning itself as a conference site for hire. I guess the economics of using the center as a tourist destination in 2009 were a bit prohibitive. I can only hope they make a comeback: On my first visit, I really liked the place.

Another Cowichan Totem Pole at Duncan

The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas was an expert on the early art of the tribes of the Northwest. His book Primitive Art (1927) attempts to explain how the totem poles functioned in the cultures of the various tribes. It’s a difficult read, but like many difficult reads, eminent worthwhile.

 

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