Chief of the Undersea World

Bill Reid holds the boxwood carving that inspired the Chief of the Undersea World. Photograph by Tony Westman.

Skanna means killer whale in the Haida language. The plaque accompanying this monumental work at the Vancouver Aquarium reads, "Chief of the Undersea world, who from his great house raises the storms of the winter and brings the calm seas of the summer. He governs the cycle of the salmon and is the keeper of all the oceans living treasures." The 5.5 meter tall bronze Killer Whale sculpture outside of the Vancouver Aquarium was created by Haida artist Bill Reid and donated by Jim and Isabel Graham. 

Beginning in 1983, the creation of this monumental piece was a team effort, while Bill Reid designed the scuplture and carved the miniature form from boxwood, seen above, his artistic vision for the full size sculpture was translated into reality by others due to his recent diagnosis with Parkinson's disease. Fellow Haida artist, Jim Hart, worked to refine the surface of Reid's small boxwood caraving that was the genesis of the project, he also defined the surface of the plaster intermediate scale model. Sculptor George Rammel, and his assistant Jack Carson worked on the 18 foot scale-up and refinement of the clay and plaster models to ensure that the true spirit of the design was captured and every detail was perfectly executed. 

Bill Reid (center) with Isabel and Jim Graham at the unveiling of Chief of the Undersea World at the Vancouver Aquarium, June 2, 1984. Photograph by Tony Westman.

After many months of work, the full size bronze sculpture arrived in Vancouver in late May 1984. On June 2nd, the  piece was officially unveiled in the presence of The Honourable Robert Rogers, The Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, artist Bill Reid, donors, Jim and Isabel Graham, and the general public. Decades later, the Chief of the Undersea World still graces the entrance to the Vancouver Aquarium.

For more information and photographs documenting the creation process see the image gallery. 


All images courtesy of Tony Westman.