Totem poles rise again on Haida Gwaii

Tim Boyko said he carves totem poles in honour of this grandfather whose Haida name he shares.

Carver Tim Boyko creates new pole for new future

Tim Boyko says he has wanted to be a totem pole carver since he was a child. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

The Haida Heritage Centre is located just off the highway by Skidegate in British Columbia and sits like a sentinel, keeping watch along the rocky shore.

It is the premiere cultural centre and museum of the Haida people, housing the artifacts, history, art and stories of the Haida nation.

Under a long roof sit two poles, one is finished and aged, the wood grey, the paint faded. The other is new and still being carved, curls of cedar pile on the ground and the smell permeates the air.
Tim Boyko, or Laada, is carving a new totem pole that will stand in front of a new hospital being built in the nearby village of Queen Charlotte. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

It's here that that totem pole carver Tim Boyko works on a new totem pole.

Boyko and his crew of apprentice carvers work on a tight deadline. They are carving this pole for the new hospital that is being built in the nearby village of Queen Charlotte. With the tight deadline, the carvers use power tools like chainsaws. Even though this is delicate work, they are able to shave the cedar pole with the touch of a surgeon's skill. 

Boycko carves in honour of this grandfather, whose Haida name he shares. ​Laada, his Haida name, means 'to make good or better.'

As a child, he remembers looking through books about his people and being fascinated by the villages, fish racks and especially the totem poles.

"I was amazed," he said. "I remember being that age and thinking what it would've been like to live as a boy running around with culture just all around you."

A pole that Bill Reid carved along with assistant carvers Guujaaw and Robert Davidson, lies waiting to be restored. (Kim Wheeler/CBC)
"I asked my mom, 'mom am I allowed to do this? My mom said 'you're Haida aren't you?' And right from there I said 'I want to be a totem pole carver.'"

When Boyko was 14 years old he started carving argillite, then began making jewelry from silver and metal. In the 1980s he earned apprenticeships with well known artists like famed carver Bill Reid.

He said he fell in love with the animated features of the figures, the huge eyes and large expressions pulled him in. This "Haida-ness" as Boyko calls it, is something he always strives to capture in his carving.

It's also something he tries to pass on to his apprentices, who sketch and carve alongside him for the duration it will take to finish it, sometimes as long as two years. But for this new pole they are working on, they have to finish it in under eight months. 

After the pole is completed, a pole raising ceremony will be held and it will finally be placed where it will stand until time and age return it to Mother Earth.