British Columbia

'Crossing cultures and healing': artists carve totem pole for Royal BC Museum

Victoria residents can can watch brothers and artists Perry and Tom LaFortune of the Tsawout First Nation carve a totem pole at Victoria's Royal B.C. Museum. The pole is expected to be completed in October.

First Nations artists Perry and Tom LaFortune will create a 7.5-metre totem pole

Master carvers and brothers Perry (pictured above) and Tom LaFortune of the Tsawout First Nation will be hard at work at Victoria's Royal BC Museum. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

Visitors to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria's Inner Harbour will have a chance to watch and talk with two master carvers as they carve a new totem pole.

Tom and Perry LaFortune of the Tsawout First Nation will be hard at work, working five days a week until October.

The project is a joint effort by the Ministry of Health and the museum.

“This is really, really special because it’s near and dear to my heart. I’m doing something that’s going to be a representation of my mother,” says Perry LaFortune. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

The pole — which will be 7.5 metres tall — has been called a reconciliation pole, but Perry and his brother prefer a different description.

"Crossing cultures and healing. That's what the theme of our pole is," Perry LaFortune told CBC's Amanda Farral-Lowe.

LaFortune, 57, has been carving for 42 years, but this is the most public project he has undertaken. 

The bottom figure on the pole will be a depiction of Perry and Tom LaFortune's mother, who passed away 10 years ago.

Perry LaFortune describes her as "one of the strongest people we know" who raised 13 children on her own.

"This is really, really special because it's near and dear to my heart," said LaFortune.

"She was a product of the residential school system … in the 30s and 40s. She suffered through a lot," he said.

The pole arrived at the Royal BC Museum on Monday (July 30). Once completed it will be raised outside the ministry of health building in Victoria. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

"She showed us how to provide, how to take care of ourselves, and how to basically be good people," he said.

The totem pole will also feature the image of an owl, which LaFortune said represents "seeing in both worlds"; a raven, which stands for being the messenger of good news; and a frog, which represents patience.

The pole arrived at the museum on July 30. Once completed, it will be raised outside the provincial health ministry building on Blanshard Street.

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With files from On the Island