The Symbolism of the Totem of Canada

The many symbols of the totem

Sources: Photo by Tony Webster


Gathering Place

Traditionally, it was common to see gatherings and commemorative celebrations happen around the totem poles.


Among the Other Symbols of this Totem Pole

These symbols represent the different cultural groups that have shaped Canada.

The base of the totem pole is in fact the most important symbol. Master carvers Guy Pierre and Denis Charette carved the symbols for the cultural organizations, and master artists Ken Mowatt and Vernon Stephens, along with students from the Kitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in British Columbia, carved the raven at the base of the totem pole.

Symbols above the wings

Zoroastrian (one of the oldest religions in the world), Trinidad and Tobago.

Symbols on the other side of the wings, facing the totem pole

Hungarian, Latvian, German.

Symbols under the wings

Japanese, Polish, Lebanese, Korean, Greek, Dutch, Turkish, Indian, French Canadian, English Canadian, and Canadian Aboriginal Crow.


The Sun Bookstore

Not far from the School of the Arts and the Totem Pole of Canada, at 33 George Street, you might find a nugget to read. The Librairie du Soleil was founded in 1988 by Francine Mercier-Chevrier and is an essential bookstore in the Francophone ecosystem of the National Capital and its region.

It offers the largest selection of books in French, with over 50,000 titles, all subjects combined: comics, biographies, business and communication, cooking, esotericism, computers, travel, youth, languages, sports, health, etc.


The Origin of the Name Ottawa

Ottawa, the name given to the Capital of Canada, has its origins in the Algonquin First Nations, who were present long before the arrival of the Europeans. In fact, Ottawa comes from 'Odawa' in Algonquin, which means traders.

Ottawa is located at the crossroads of three major rivers: the Ottawa River, the Gatineau River, and the Rideau River. This crossroads was a strategic meeting place for the region's people.

The earliest evidence of human occupation in the Ottawa Valley (across the Ottawa River from Ottawa) has been estimated to be about 6,000 years old.

Today, First Nations welcome visitors to the Mādahòkì (meaning sharing the land) tourism site, southwest of downtown Ottawa. You can participate in original Aboriginal experiences such as music performances, traditional dances, storytelling and legends, interactive workshops and culinary discoveries, and learn about animals including the famous 'Ojibwe' sacred spirit horse, a rare and reportedly endangered species.

Note that from May to October, Aboriginal Experiences also welcomes groups directly in front of the Canadian Museum of History on Parliament Hill.

If you visit Ottawa in May, don't miss the Odawa Pow-Wow, the traditional First Nations celebration (200 Moodie Drive in Ottawa): dance and song competitions, arts and crafts market, and Aboriginal cuisine. An experience that will last a lifetime!

Text version of the audio

This totem located in front of the Ottawa School of Art results from a collaboration between this School of Art, the Assembly of First Nations, and various community groups representing Canadian society.

Together they designed, sculpted, transported across the country, and installed this work in 1991 as a testament to the deep feeling they share for their country: Canada.

The raven, a symbolic image of Aboriginal peoples, is carved around the base of the totem pole. The other symbols represent different Canadian community groups.

Thousands of visitors from all over the world come every year to have their picture taken in front of this popular totem pole.

The totem pole, literally meaning 'monumental pole', is a carved work specific to the First Nations peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. Totem Poles are generally carved from red cedar, which is very malleable and resistant to the Canadian climate.

Each work holds symbols specific to each Nation, such as their history, family members, their culture, but also allows specifying the rights attached to a particular territory. Some of these totems, visible on the West Coast of Canada near Vancouver, can exceed 20 metres in height.

Each Nation has its own style of carving that allows it to distinguish itself. Very often, animals are sculpted, as they represent the characteristics of each member of the family by similarity. In some cases, supernatural beings are carved.

The animals most often represented are the beaver, the bear, the wolf, the raven, the eagle, the frog, or the killer whale, of the same family as the dolphins and very common on the West Coast of Canada.

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