Elliott pole restoration

What’s with the tent in the Quad? The S,YEWE Legend Pole (also known as the Elliott pole) in the UVic Quad was commissioned by Coast Salish carver Charles Elliott to mark the 1990 Learned Society conference at UVic. In 2013 Legacy Art Galleries staff noticed signs of rot at the base of the pole. Upon inspection by the artist, Royal BC Museum conservator George Field and Legacy Galleries Director Mary Jo Hughes, it was determined that the rot was caused by the issues around the original installation of the pole. Sitting directly on a cement pad, the cedar core of the pole has been acting like a wick, basically drawing water up from where it pools on the cement pad. After a thorough conservation report and an engineering inspection, a plan has been developed to restore the pole and alleviate the problem of continued water damage.

The pole will be taken down by Facilities Management in early February and it will lay in a heated tent in the centre of the Quad for several weeks. Once it has dried out enough, carver John Livingston, working under the guidance of Charles Elliott, will remove the rot, replace any losses, treat the wood for insects, apply sealant and repaint the pole. This may take up to two months depending on how long the drying process takes. The refurbished pole will be raised on a new mounting system that will keep it from touching the ground and away from water. Later in the spring UVic will hold a rededication ceremony.

The S,YEWE legend:

A long, long time ago, when our land was still heavy with forest, one young man, SWIWLES,S, became a new dancer. He was a very good dancer. He had a good style (S,IY,LE). His people were very proud of his dancing. When the moon of the Frog (WEXES) came along it was time to end the dancing season (PELKOE). The new dancers would then venture into the forest and take their uniforms off. They would put their hats on their canes and place them in the hollow of a cedar tree. It was at this time the creator (XALS) appeared to SWIWLES,S and he told him that his style was very good; that through his bathing, venturing into the forest, and keeping a clean mind he would receive a gift for his goodness. The gift SWIWLES,S would receive would enable him to foretell the future. He would become a S,YEWE. The creator warned him never to tell anyone of the gift he received. So the young man returned home happy and excited about the gift he had received. When he and his wife went to bed that night he could no longer contain his excitement. He thought to himself, that if he whispered in his wife's ear, no one would hear. The moment he whispered into his wife's ear, he realized that he had wronged the Creator.

The very next morning, SWIWLES,S and his wife packed their things and put them in their canoe. They paddled towards Cordova Bay and when they arrived the creator spoke to them from amongst the Blue Herons at Point Roberts. The young man told his wife not to listen. He said, "Get off the canoe and we will go up into the forest and hide." Since they did not stop, the creator became angry. He cast a Quentoles (stone) at them. Just as SWIWLES,S was pushing his wife up the hill the round black rock struck them and they turned into stone. Today one can still see the pair pushing each other up the hill the with Qentoles lodged in the man, at Cordova Bay.

—Told by Philip Pelkey; interpreted by Earl Claxton Sr.; written and edited by John Elliott and Linda Underwood

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Keywords: Elliott pole, Indigenous

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