The University of British Columbia is now home to a 17-metre tall totem pole that represents the victims and survivors of Canada's residential school system.

UBC Totem raised

Hundreds of people gathered to see the Reconciliation Pole rise and many helped pull on ropes to place it. (Meghan McMenamie)

The pole was carved by Haida master carver and hereditary Chief James Hart, also known as 7idansuu.

"It's really to bring attention to the destruction [residential schools] brought forth and the effects that we're living with today," he said.

Indigenous children across Canada were forced to leave their families and attend the church-run, government-funded boarding centres for Aboriginal children that operated in Canada for more than 100 years.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools documented the litany of abuses that took place in the system including severe punishments, neglect, isolation, and sexual molestation.

Reconciliation Totem pole raised at UBC0:42

The pole, carved into a 800-year-old cedar tree, has special figures representing different aspects of the residential school experience.

"It is called reconciliation. It is about a time before, during and after Canada's Indian Residential schools," Hart explained.

UBC reconciliation pole

James Hart, 7idansuu, is a Haida master carver and hereditary chief who carved the Reconciliation Pole. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Faces of children are carved into the pole, he said, with spirit figures protecting them.

A family unit, wearing the regalia of yesteryear, is supposed to represent Indigenous people getting their strength back together.

Above that a canoe and a longboat travel over water, symbolizing a people moving forward.

Reconciliation pole

The pole has different symbols representing the residential school experience. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

"It's quite amazing to see what's taking place and the people coming in to see what's going on," said Hart.

"They get it, especially the people who have gone to these residential schools. They get it right away."

The pole's thousands of copper nails represent the number of Indigenous children who died while in the system. Residential school survivors and their family members participated in the emotional process of hammering in the nails.

"Some people came by for days to hammer," he said.

Residential pole nails

The thousands of copper nails hammered into the pole, representing the children who died in the residential school system. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Hart said the carving process for this particular pole was "really tough" on him.

"It's been tough — really tough — working on it, with more and more stuff about residential schools coming towards me all the time. It's quite emotional," he said.

Hammering nails reconciliation pole

Residential school survivors and family members participated by hammering in nails onto the pole during the carving process. The nails represent the children who lost their lives at residential schools. (George Baker/CBC)

The pole was raised in a ceremony at 1 p.m. PT on April 1 in the traditional Haida manner.

The pole stands at the University of British Columbia's Main Mall between Agronomy Road and Thunderbird Boulevard, looking towards the future site of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

James Hart finishing touches totem pole

Carver James Hart puts the finishing touches on the totem pole on Thursday. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Listen to carver James Hart talk about the reconciliation pole on CBC's The Early Edition here: