Ray Wesley Totems

Ray Wesley poles at their original location in Naheeno Park. Photo courtesy Dr. John Hebron
Ray Wesley poles in their current location at the Office for Aboriginal People. Photo by Reese Muntean
Ray Wesley poles at their original location in Naheeno Park. Photo courtesy Dr. John Hebron

Title/Date: Tsimshian Totem Poles, ca. 1970
Artist: Ray Wesley
Culture/Language Group: Tsimshian
Media: Carved and Painted Red Cedar
Credit Line: Collection of the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Simon Fraser University
Location: Office for Aboriginal Peoples (Northeast AQ)


Created around 1970, these poles were one of SFU’s first art commissions, and the first pieces of art on campus to be commissioned from an Aboriginal artist. Unfortunately, the story that Ray Wesley was communicating with his work has been lost. However, it is still possible to discern some of the characters that have a role to play - the frog, raven, bear, and wolf - amongst others.

Contrary to the beliefs of many early travelers, explorers and missionaries, the totem poles of the Northwest Coast were not worshiped by First Nations, nor are they depictions of gods. Totem poles are better described as heraldic devices - that is, they are monumental structures that recount the deeds of a cultural hero or an ancestor who encountered a supernatural being. Such encounters thereby earned the family or lineage the right to represent that being or event as a crest or symbol. Thus, totem poles are emblems of a family’s identity, their rights to access and use resources, and records of a family’s history.

A number of monuments are often lumped together in the category of totem poles. These include entry poles, house posts, welcome figures, and mortuary poles. At the time of contact with Europeans, freestanding multiple-figure totem poles were only made by northern Northwest Coast peoples (Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian). Large human welcome figures and interior house posts were made by the Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples further south. The Coast Salish people in Southern British Columbia and Western Washington also carved large human figures representing ancestors and spirit helpers on interior house posts and as grave monuments.

Additional Information - Ray Wesley Totems

These poles were commissioned by the University Alumni Association in the early 1970s, and placed in Naheeno Park. They were relocated indoors by the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, and by the Office for Aboriginal Peoples at SFU in 2013.


“Totem Poles”. The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Studies. Simon Fraser University. 2011. Web. http://www.sfu.ca/brc/art_architecture/totem_poles.html

Wright, Robyn K. “Totem Poles: Heraldic Columns of the Northwest. University of Washington Library: Digital Collections. Web. https://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/wright.html

Tsimshian art and culture:

Cove, J. and George F. MacDonald, eds. Tsimshian narratives collected by Marius Barbeau and William Beynon. 2 vols. Canadian Museum of Civilization Mercury Series, Directorate Paper no. 3, 1987. Print.

Ellis, Donald, Ed. Treasures of the Tsimshian: The Remarkable Journey of the Dundas Collection. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007. Print

Seguin, Margaret, Ed. The Tsimshian: Images of the Past, Views for the Present. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1984. Print.

Ray Wesley Totems:

Meadahl, Narianne. “Totem blessing begins restoration” Community News Archive: Simon Fraser University. 2007. Web. http://www.sfu.ca/archive-sfunews/Stories/sfunews11010706.shtml

 “New Home for Totem Poles” Community News Archive: Simon Fraser University. 2010 Web. http://www.sfu.ca/archive-sfunews/news/new-home-for-totem-poles.shtml