The totem pole outside Langley Memorial Hospital was a gift from the nurses, installed shortly after the current building opened in 1965.
But the pole can’t stay where it is. The ER expansion means Fraser Health is looking for a new spot on the hospital grounds.
“Our Aboriginal Health team is working with the First Nations Health Authority and the Cowichan Tribes to develop a plan to move, store and relocate the totem pole in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner to facilitate the redevelopment and expansion of Langley Memorial Hospital’s emergency department,” said Tasleem Juma, a Fraser Health spokesperson.
Fraser Health is also working with local First Nations (Kwantlen, Katzie, and Matsqui).
“We will be looking to those communities to address any local cultural protocols,” she said. “We are looking at alternate locations on the hospital’s campus to relocate the totem pole.”
One of the women who was there when the pole went up knows where she would like to see it moved.
“Personally, and I know I speak for all members of our committee, I would like to see the pole placed beside the stone wall in the Memorial Cottage area – the site of the first building – near Fraser Highway,” said Doris Riedweg, a former nurse and local author who is also involved in the Langley Memorial Hospital Archives at Michaud House.
The community is watching what happens to it.
“There is no doubt that the pole must come down because of construction, but there is a certain protocol to follow in taking it down and raising it again,” Riedweg added. “We are in touch with [Kwantlen] Chief Marilyn Gabriel regarding this.”
The health authority is involving the Cowichan area First Nations because of the pole’s history.
Simon Charlie, originally from Duncan, B.C., made the pole specifically for the hospital. The nurses of Langley commissioned him to do the pole as their gift to the new hospital which opened in 1965. The original Cottage Hospital opened in 1948. Only the stone wall of the Cottage Hospital remains and that is now the site of a mental health unit called Memorial Cottage.
Charlie was also able to do the restoration work on the pole in 1998.
Hospital on the Hill, the history book about Langley Memorial, includes a piece about the pole. The original pole had a thunderbird, representing the creator. There was a smaller thunderbird face on the thunderbird’s breast, to represent the spirit of the thunderbird.
The top face was an omen and protector.
A figure of a salmon symbolizes abundance. The fish is held in the claws of a thunderbird with another in a bear’s mouth. These symbolize the community having all it needs.
There’s a whale which conveys not only strength and bravery but also evil.
The bear is considered a symbol of strength, authority and nobility.
“On our pole, he is holding the ‘copper’,” the book said.
A copper is a shield or tablet to signify wealth and abundance.
At the bottom of the pole is a ceremonial dance mask from the Cowicahan Indian Band.
The suggestion of having a pole commissioned, instead of a more traditional nurses’ gift, came from nurses Goodie Williamson and Iris Mooney.
“I was working at the hospital when the pole was gifted by the nurses,” said Riedweg. “As far as I know, nurse Val Dirks and I are the only ones still living who were involved in that. The old-timers who were most involved were director Marion Ward, Peggie Young, Iris Mooney, Pat Barron, Clara Epp, Goodie Williamson and Marge Norman. They are all gone now.”
Langley Memorial Hospital is undergoing an expansion, tripling the existing space, providing 49 (up from 31) treatment sections, and adding a separate pediatric waiting area for kids and an MRI suite.
Last year there were more than 46,000 visits to the emergency department. The $30 million project include a pledge for $15 million from the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation.