Grand Hall tour

Central Coast House

On the Central Coast live the Kwakwaka'wakw, Heiltsuk, Owikeno and Haisla, politically distinct groups of people who speak different, though related, languages. Their territories, adjacent to one another, stretch from northern Vancouver Island to a point north of Kitimat.

CMC T2004-003 (detail) The façade of the clapboard house represents the house of Chief Wakas, a nineteenth-century chief who was descended from both the Owikeno and Nimpkisk peoples. The original house stood in Alert Bay from the early 1890s until at least the 1930s.

From his Owikeno ancestors, Wakas inherited a speaker's staff which represented the chief's authority and was used by a person speaking on behalf of a chief at a potlatch or other formal occasion. The carved figures on the staff are emblems of the chief's family history. When he commissioned the entrance pole for his house, Chief Wakas had the carver re-create the figures on the speaker's staff. The figures evoke the story of the acquisition by human beings of the dances, songs and masks of the winter ceremonial.

You may enter the house.

Photo: Stephen Alsford; CMC D2004-18407 When the Wakas Pole was first erected in front of the house in the 1890s, the archway through the bottom figure served as the entrance to the house. Shortly afterward a beak was added by Kwakwaka'wakw artist Dick Price. The top of the beak was the prow of a canoe, with the lower part specially made to complement it. Once the beak (large enough to admit a person) was added, the pole became a ceremonial entrance to the house. For everyday use a rectangular doorway was cut through the façade beside the pole.

At the top of the pole is Thunderbird, Lord of the Upper World, and below is Killer Whale, Lord of the Undersea World. Below Killer Whale is Wolf, then comes Wise One, a human figure. Next is the mythical Cannibal Bird, and below him is Bear. At the base is Raven.

The façade was originally white with a dark border. In 1899 or 1900, the Raven figure at the base of the pole was completed with the painting of tail feathers, wings and claws stretching across the façade, and bringing the façade, the pole and the house together into a single representation of the history of Wakas's family.