A totem pole located at the Malahat Summit lookout has been removed less than a month after it was burned.
Crews removed the Salish Bear Totem at the Malahat Summit for refurbishment following a private ceremony on Saturday morning, according to a City of Duncan press release.
“The memorial items people have placed at the totem will remain at the site,” the city said in its release.
The totem pole was badly burned after it caught fire in the early morning hours on July 2. Two motorists passing the summit at around 4 a.m. stopped and were able to extinguish the blaze before firefighters could arrive on scene. Graffiti found near the pole read “one totem – one statue” in what appeared to be a reference to an earlier incident where a statue of Capt. James Cook was removed and thrown into the Victoria harbour.
“The Salish Bear Totem was purposefully set on fire in an act of unacceptable retaliation with a message reading, ‘one totem – one statue’. Two women saw the fire and used water bottles to try to douse the flames, and others driving by stopped to help until fire crews arrived,” reads the City of Duncan’s press release.
Although the Shawnigan Lake RCMP has not publicly said the incident is definitely arson, they strongly believe it is and continue to investigate the matter along with the Vancouver Island Forensic Identification Section.
Carved by the late Stan Modeste, who was the Chief of the Cowichan Tribes, the totem pole was installed in the 1960s as part of the 1966 Route of the Totem Centennial project.
In 2015, the City of Duncan began handling and overseeing the coordination of the refurbishment of the totem on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation.
“Since then, the city has been working under the guidance of the Modeste Family, Cowichan Tribes, and Cowichan Elders to follow the protocols related to removing the totem and begin refurbishment,” the release states.
The provincial government is covering the costs of the July 31 ceremony as well as refurbishment costs for the totem pole, according to the City of Duncan.
Anyone with information about the burning of the totem pole is urged to contact the Shawnigan Lake RCMP at 250-743-5514.