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Where is the world's tallest totem pole?: You'd think it would be a simple matter to document the world's tallest totem pole. But it's not. If you want "tall" measured in feet or meters, think Alert Bay, B.C. Canada. They claim to have the world's tallest totem at 173 ft (56.4m). So what's the problem? Well, the pole was built in three pieces and telescoped together. Some people think that's sort of cheating; it's not one pole, it's three stacked poles. Hmmm.

Tall totems have always had a bad reputation for causing quarrels. Only a few years ago in 1992, the undisputed world's tallest (Guinness Book of Records) was raised in Victoria, B.C. Canada. It was 185 ft (56 m) and in one piece, a real sky scraper. So what happened? There was so much controversy over it, in the year 2000 it was taken down and chopped into sections. It is no more. Hmmm.

Now in Kake, Alaska, there stands the world's tallest properly sanctioned totem pole, they claim, at 132 ft, (40 m). Carved by the Chilkats in 1967 for Alaska's centennial, it's in one piece and it stands on a bluff high over a Native reservation. And it's an authentic totem pole if you count the tradition as part of the totem's authenticity. But before you start rejoicing, there's a taller totem pole to reckon with in Kalama, Washington . At 140 ft (42.7 m) it's pretty darn tall and it s in one piece, but it has a problem too. It wasn't built by a real Native American, though the man who did carve it was talented and very respectful to the tradition. So you decide... who has the world's tallest totem?

1) Kalama, Washington 2) Alert Bay, B.C. 3) Kake, Alaska


Where is the world's oldest totem pole? Surely there's an easy answer to this one? No... it's sort of complicated too. So you decide...

1) Claiming to be the world's largest, oldest, original collection and being cared for in the Totem Heritage Center in Ketichikan AK, there are exactly 33 totems and totem fragments here clocking in at just over 100 years old. Some may be a little older. These poles are now displayed indoors or lying in pieces on shelves. Unfortunately, (oh dear) that's not really so very, very, old. But there are 33 of them.


2) A few years ago an old totem pole claiming to be the oldest in the world, was harvested from northern B.C. and taken into storage at the Canadian Museum of Civilization [CMOC] in Ottawa-Hull, Canada. A brand-new sanctioned replica was made and raised in its original village. Named "Hole-in-the-Ice", it pretty much had all its features intact and it dated from (maybe) 1860. Maybe it is the oldest, but with all the uncertainty about "how old is the oldest totem?" all we can say for sure is that it seems to be among the oldest. What we also know is that the totems poles on display at CMOC are all newly made replicas. The older ones are in closed storage.


3) The Museum of Anthropology [MOA] in Vancouver, BC has several old, original totems and totem fragments (more than 33 they tell me) in their collection dating as long ago as the 1850s. They believe that's the age of the Tanu Pole they own. Many of their oldest totems are on display, while others are in storage. That's a lot older than Kechikan's totem fragments. And they have more of them. So maybe... the oldest are here. But the museum curators don t want to claim this as a certainty. Who knows?
You can see how hard it is to know these things for sure because Native people had no standardized written language.


4) Then there's the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria BC. It has several old, original totems (but fewer than 33) standing right out front behind protected glass panels. They won't speculate on how old their oldest totems are. In their window they talk about one fragment coming from the year 1838. But one can never be certain. And they don't want to take responsibility for giving exact dates. So they just might have the oldest piece, but they don't want to claim they do. Huh?


So let's reconsider the question. Where are the world's oldest totems still standing outdoors? They're on Anthony Island, Ninstints, on the Queen Charlotte Islands in Haida territory in BC, Canada. It's a U.N. World Heritage site, protected and the totems there date from (for sure) before 1880 (when the village was abandoned) and maybe as long ago as the 1840s... but then again .... maybe not that old. Fifteen already-very-old poles from that location were moved to museums in the 1930s and 1950s. Exactly 32 poles remain in place. That seems to be the oldest collection in situ, still standing. These few remaining totems are like melting gray ghosts and are weathering away in the rainy, windy climate pretty quickly. If someone doesn't do something to preserve them (and that's oh-so-very controversial), it won't be too many decades until it's the world oldest collection of standing toothpicks that used to be totem poles.

So you decide...who has the world's oldest totem pole or totem fragment?

Tallest, Kalama Washington

Tallest, Alert Bay B.C.

Oldest fragments claimed in Ketchikan, Alaska

Oldest fragments are in storage in Ottawa

Oldest fragments may be in Vancouver

Old fragments in Victoria

In situ, Ninstints

Where is the world's thickest totem pole? Here we have no problem. The world's thickest totem pole, is located in Duncan, BC on Vancouver Island. It's 6 ft (1.8m) in diameter, was carved under proper protocols, and is made from a very old, very thick cedar tree. Carvers from New Zealand helped to carve it.

Where are the world's most viewed totems? The world's most viewed totem poles, with about 8 to 10 million visitors a year, (Vancouver Parks Department figures) are in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Yes, they are all authentic totem poles (some are originals and some are properly sanctioned-duplicates) and this city began their collection in 1939 by gathering up already-old totems and fragments.

Thickest Totem in the world




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