The “World’s Tallest Totem” was erected in Beacon Hill Park Saturday, June 30, 1956 and dedicated Monday, July 2, 1956. The totem was carved from a single cedar tree with adze and knife by noted Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) carver Chief Mungo Martin, his son David and Henry Hunt. 3,000 people attended the dedication ceremony on July 2. 76 year-old Chief Martin, in ceremonial robe, made a dramatic speech in Kwakwaka’wakw.
The pole was erected in the southeast corner of the Park, east of Circle Drive near Dallas Road, against the backdrop of the Lovers’ Lane forest. Other sites considered for the pole were Thunderbird Park, the Legislative lawn, the top of Mt. Tolmie, the Causeway and closer to the waterfront in Beacon Hill Park. “The architect’s committee... chose the natural setting in Beacon Hill where the totem will stand in its own area against a background of other trees.” (Times, June 19, 1956, p. 8
It took six months from the time the tree was felled at Muir Creek until it was erected in the Park. The carving was done at Thunderbird Park, next to the Provincial Museum. A major hurdle in moving the totem from Thunderbird Park to Beacon Hill Park was maneuvering the 127 foot 7 inch pole around the corner at Belleville and Douglas Streets. The next challenge was setting it into the 90 ton steel sleeve and concrete base prepared at the site. The socket base, which resembled a “giant candlestick holder,” enabled the pole to stand without guy wires. The base stood 5 feet 9 inches high, leaving 121 feet, 10 inches of the pole visible. (Times, June 29, 1956, p. 1-2)
To pay for the pole, a public fundraising campaign, sponsored by the Victoria Daily Times, was launched by publisher Stuart Keate in January, six months earlier. On Friday, June 29, 1956, the Times published a fourteen page “Totem Souvenir Edition” listing the names of over 10,000 people who bought 50 cent shares. A list of contributors was also buried at the base of the pole. Keate wrote: “The idea was to recruit those famed Indian carvers, Mungo and David Martin, and their relative Henry Hunt, and rear up in Beacon Hill Park ‘...a mighty totem...visible by sea, land and air...an inspiring landmark of our city.’” (Times, June 29, 1956, p. 1-2)
The totem in Beacon Hill Park was the world’s tallest totem until 1973, when it was surpassed by a 173 foot pole erected at Alert Bay.
There was much discussion and a long delay before plaques were placed at the Tallest Totem. See 1957 for details.
[On May 22, 2001, a public campaign to raise funds for the restoration and re installation of the pole was launched. The cost of each share in 2001 was $5. The pole was taken down, restored, repainted and erected again. (See 2001 for details.)