Calvin Hunt cranes his neck, surveys the world’s tallest freestanding totem pole made from a single tree, and shrugs his shoulders.
The First Nations artist and totem pole carver is now in the process of finding out if he is afraid of heights. Hunt and and Victoria First Nations artist and carver John Livingston are renown preparing the nearly 40-metre-tall, 55-year-old totem in Beacon Hill Park for fresh coats of paint.
“That (fear of height) could happen to me. I don’t know yet,” said Hunt, grandson of Mungo Martin, who originally led the carving on the totem that was installed in the park on June 30, 1956.
The painting project, including installation of the scaffolding, has been budgeted to cost the city of Victoria $75,000. It’s necessary, say parks staff, because the marine enamel paint on the pole is severely peeling and needs to be replaced with exterior acrylic latex paint.
Hunt and Livingston, with help from Livingston’s wife Maxine Matilpi, will clean and treat the pole, apply a coat of white paint, then highlight the pole’s features with coloured paint in keeping with the vision of Mungo Martin, who led the carving done on the pole.
Livingston worked on the totem in 1989, and again when it was taken down, repaired and re-installed in 2001. Now he and Hunt, who often work together on big projects, will spend the next month refreshing the historic icon.
This may be the last time the freestanding story pole receives extra attention, though the city will continue to have it assessed every three years.
“This could be one of the last times we actually do this type of maintenance on it,” said Gord Smith, Victoria’s manager of parks operations.
“We think within the next eight to 10 years the pole conceivably will have to be lowered to the ground, if it doesn’t lower itself to the ground – like in a big windstorm.”
While its future after it is removed has not been mapped out, one option is to display the pole in a public place for people to enjoy, Smith said.
“It’s a piece of public art, that’s how we view it,” he said. “It has a very strong connection to Victoria residents.”