-by Cynthia A Carlsen, moderator of the HWY 14 History Facebook group
- Left to right – Mungo Martin, David Martin, Jack Elder, Ted Shaw, Ron Walker, Marshall Smith (Sambo the coonhound), Bill Hemmingsen, and Bill Neil. Image from Cynthia A Carlsen.
Just imagine… it’s the mid ‘50s in the tight knit community of Sooke, where logging and fishing families cared for one another and the children were raised like a large extended family. In those days wives were dedicated homemakers tending to the house and children, whilst helping one another in the community. The population of Sooke and surrounding area back then was around 1,200 residents. Sooke’s claim to fame at that time was All Sooke Days and its world birling champs.
Like most of the guys in Sooke, Ted Shaw was a local logger working away doing his thing salvaging windfallen and diseased logs out of the Muir Creek Watershed. Little did Ted realize that in short time he would forever be recognized as a major contributor to a legacy of pride and heritage made possible by the cooperation between the First Nations’ and Victoria communities.
It was late 1955 and Stuart Keate, then publisher of the Victoria Press, came up with the idea to create the world’s tallest freestanding totem pole. Mr. Keate’s thought it could be Victoria’s landmark – a mighty totem that could be visible by land, sea and air. The idea would be paid for by a public fundraising campaign selling share certificates at 50 cents.
Let’s get back to Ted… I’ll talk about the totem shares later.
In order to make this pole project come to fruition, a very, very long tree was needed. I’m assuming Mr. Keate had a chat with the folks at Sooke Forest Products to find the perfect pole, as it was a fellow by the name of Bill Hemmingsen – the log supply manager of Sooke Forest Products – who approached Ted and asked him to go on the hunt for a giant cedar. Ted was quite honoured to have been asked to take on the task and immediately set out to find the perfect pole.
The Muir Creek watershed, 16km north of Sooke, would be the perfect grove to search in. Ted proceeded to spend the next three to four months combing through the 3,600 acres of Muir Creek Block 70. In a past interview, Ted was quoted with “city boys couldn’t trample through” referring to the waist deep and thick salal he trekked through for months during his search efforts. If anyone knows the area, you can imagine the workout Ted got – I’m fatigued just thinking about it… In the end, 23 potential poles had been tagged and then one by one eliminated. Chief Mungo Martin and his son David had to inspect and pick the tree, as it would be them who would be carving the magnificent pole.
Now that the perfect tree – a red cedar standing 150 feet long and five feet in diameter – had been selected, how to fall it without it breaking? How to transport the behemoth? Ted and his buddies had it all figured out… but, first, Ted needed to fall the tree. He would use a McCulloch Super 99 chainsaw.
On January 10, 1956, Ted felled the tree with the help of Marshall Smith who ran a hook-tender, lowering carefully by block and tackle. In one interview Ted mentioned “There was a lot of help from Max Elder, and many good men were involved too. We got the catskinners to clear a pathway to fall it, and form a cushion of soft earth for it to land on”. The bed was set in place by catskinners Jack Cameron and Joe McNeil. Boughs of brushy hemlock, along with the soft soil, lined the bed. Now resting, the tree was delimbed to prepare for transport.
Given that the tree was far too long for transport by truck, it was dragged for a mile to tidewater at Muir Creek where it was met by Island Tug and Barge’s “Island Comet” that towed it to the Victoria inner harbour. Two giant Heaney Cartage cranes were set up on the harbour’s causeway to lift the pole to bring it to its final stop, the Thunderbird Park carving shed.
For the next six months, legendary and famous Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) carver Chief Mungo Martin, his son David, and Henry Hunt, dedicated themselves to carving what would be called the Story Pole. Traditional totem poles tell the story of a family; however, Mungo Martin’s vision was to tell a variety of First Nations stories. It was determined that this project was such a great union of First Nations artistry and European craftsmanship that it did not offend or break cultural traditions by telling a variety of stories.
Once carved, the Story Pole stood at 127 feet and 7 inches high. A 90 ton steel sleeve and concrete base were prepared on the site where the pole would stand without any guy wires. It was also entered into the record books as being the world’s tallest totem pole.
Gearing up for the ceremonious day, on June 29, 1956, the Victoria Daily Times published a fourteen page “Totem Souvenir Edition” listing the names of over 10,000 people who bought the 50 cent shares. Believe it or not, Sir Winston Churchill and Bing Crosby actually bought shares! A list of share contributors was also buried at the base of the pole. On June 30, 1956, the Story Pole was erected in Beacon Hill Park. A dedication followed on July 2, 1956, with over 3,000 people in attendance. In his ceremonial robe, then 76 year old Chief Martin made a speech in Kwakwaka’wakw dedicating his tallest totem pole to the aboriginal soldiers who fought in the Second World War.
The average lifespan of a totem pole is 50 years and traditionally they are left to die naturally to end their story. However, with the unity and heritage the traditional landmark Story Pole represented, it was agreed that restoration and preservation was required. On May 22, 2001, a new public fundraiser began to pay for the costs of restoration, repainting and re-erection. This time around, shares were sold for five dollars. Native carver Vern Point of the Chehalis First Nation supervised the restoration.
Ted, now age 84, was interview in July 2001 and animatedly recalled his memories of the day he felled the giant tree and it all began. The restored pole was raised, once again, on October 29, 2001. Despite Ted’s desire to attend the raising ceremony, sadly he passed away on September 18, 2001. Ted’s wife, Elsie, noted that she thought they had done a good job on the restoration. The project was called “To Rise Again” and cost $185,000.
Further restoration efforts were made in 2011 with the City of Victoria partnering with First Nations artists Jonathan Livingston and Calvin Hunt who cleaned and re-painted the Story Pole – scaffolding was used that went as high as 37 meters in height – the restoration was completed in July 2011.
The erection of the Story Pole represents an important partnership that was created by the world’s tallest totem project. This marked a significant recognition of the traditions, stories, artistry, and totem pole carving on the west coast. Why? Because between 1884 and 1951 the federal government suppressed the carvings of potlaches and totem poles.
Mungo Martin is credited with reviving totem pole carving on Canada’s west coast. Museums, art galleries and tribal councils started reviving totem carving after the law was revoked. Mr. Martin was awarded the Canada Council medal, the first native Canadian to be given the reward posthumously after his death in 1962.
Ted was very serious about preserving local history, and I can only think that he must have been elated to participate in creating a landmark that not only brought together so many communities for the better, but will provide eternal history for generations to follow.
I know Ted’s family is very proud of his legacy, and I wish to thank them for sharing their personal collection of photos and memories.
Please note, HWY 14 History is a closed Facebook Group. To become a member, just visit this link and ask to join. SPN will be posting these with the expressed permission from Carlsen; to get the first scoop and participate with the online conversation, consider joining HWY 14 History. -SPN
- Part 5 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Farming Days
- Part 4 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Tripp Creek Pole and Piling Ltd.
- Part 3 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Logging Days
- Part 2 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—World’s Tallest Totem Pole
- Part 1 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Cougar Hunting Days
- History of the Shaw family coming soon to the Hwy14 History group