Small poles were usually produced for sale. Many of these poles were carved between 1910 and 1950, during a time when the potlatch, a ceremonial celebration incorporating traditions of sharing and gift giving, was banned by law.

While carving large poles, masks and other activities associated with potlatching declined during this difficult time, artists produced many smaller poles, keeping the artistic traditions alive.

In 1951, the Indian Act was revised and the ban on potlatching was dropped, rendering the celebration and raising of totem poles legal once again. Totem poles were again carved and erected in the communities along the coast.

Large poles and monumental sculptures carved from red and yellow cedar were also used as house corner posts, entrance poles, as mortuary poles, which held the remains of high ranking individuals, and as memorial poles erected in honour of a deceased leader.

The large poles in this gallery represent the different artistic styles developed by the coastal peoples. Each First Nation developed a distinctive traditional artistic style. Look at the carving styles of the large poles and compare them with each other. Can you see the different figures and animals? Click on each pole for information and a larger image.

The poles below are on loan to the SFU Museum from the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

Small Totem Poles

Large Totem Poles

Can you guess what the figures on the totem poles represent? What do you think each totem pole symbolizes?

Are there any differences or similarities between them? Do you think any of these totem poles were made post-European contact?