British Columbia

Carver brings new life to traditional First Nations wood

Luke Marston is currently carving a racing canoe a year after his sculpture 'Shore to Shore' was unveiled in Stanley Park.

It’s been one year since Luke Marston’s sculpture ‘Shore to Shore’ was unveiled in Stanley Park

Sun panel, carved by Luke Marston in 2016,references the legend of a young man who traded his feather blanket with the sun, getting a wool blanket in return. Every time he took a strand of wool from this wool blanket and placed it into the river, it transformed into thousands of salmon. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

Coast Salish artist Luke Marston find calm in his carving, working away for hours with the cedar traditionally used by the First Nations for everything from their canoes to clothing.

"It's just like a meditative state where there's no mind, you're just empty-minded and working and being in the moment," Marston told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

"You'll be working forever and then all of a sudden realize that you've done this big huge section."

Stanley Park sculpture

This month has a special significance for the Vancouver Island resident, as April 25 marks one year since his sculpture 'Shore to Shore' was unveiled at Brockton Point in Vancouver's Stanley Park.

The 'Shore to Shore' sculpture in Stanley Park tells the story of Joe Silvey, a Portuguese pioneer in search of gold who settled in Coal Harbour in the 1850s with his family. He was married twice to two aboriginal women — Khaltinaht and Kwatleematt — who are also featured in the sculpture. (

The four metre-tall sculpture, carved in wood and cast in bronze, tells the story of a Portuguese pioneer who settled in Coal Harbour in the 1850s and was married twice to two aboriginal women.

These days, Marston can be found working on a number of pieces, including a feast dish bowl in the shape of a beaver, commissioned for the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver.

A feast dish bowl, in the shape of a beaver. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

When visited by North by Northwest, Marston was also working on a one-person race canoe.

He said that type of narrow racing canoe evolved over the last couple of hundred years from the traditional interceptor war canoe.

Traditional canoe

Marston describes being in a canoe as a "magical experience" because it's believed that the cedar is alive, even after it's been cut down and carved.

North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay speaks to Luke Marston in his Vancouver Island studio. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

"When it's created into something else it's still alive and has its own energy and its own medicines," he said.

"So when you're out on the water it's already a peaceful thing to be on the water, but when you're inside a dug out canoe it has a whole other sensation to it."

Marston said different First Nations communities up and down the west coast all have their own distinct designs for their canoes, and said he is putting a number of designs and details both on the outside and the inside of the vessel.

A traditional racing canoe that Luke Marston is currently working on. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

Though he started carving the piece for himself, he said he probably will sell it. But not before he putting it in the water first.

"I definitely will take it out a few times," he said.

Marston, who has been carving from a young age, said he spends a lot of time choosing quality wood — would usually means the wood is a few hundreds of years old.

"Just having that in your mindset when you start is pretty huge. It's a massive thing to think that this piece of wood has been growing for hundreds of years," he said.

"You're bringing it new life, and it's not just getting turned into pencils or a fence picket."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest