Workers at Royal Roads University erect the school’s first totem

Raising harmony at Royal Roads

This week’s inaugural totem raising marks a significant step forward for university

A once fallen cedar will stand once more.

Royal Roads University’s 75th anniversary celebrations continued this week with the raising of a 25-foot tall totem pole welcoming students, faculty and the community to the national historic site, with the open arms of a man and the open wings of an eagle.

Wayne Standlund, who commissioned and gifted the totem to the school, said the artwork represents everything the longstanding university stands for.

“The university is a place of great love (for me). I wanted to leave them with something that was meaningful and consistent with all the virtues and principals of the university,” he said. “I was pleased the university allowed me to do this.”

The pole, which cost more than $30,000 to commission and erect, not to mention hundreds of hours of carving under the skilled hands, watchful eye and sharpened blades of carver Tom LaFortune, is a symbolic gift also reflecting what the university means to the community. Strandlund said it was aptly named Harmony.

“Harmony is one of many things RRU is all about. It is really a community event and all universities are communities, but at RRU we are the stewards of roughly 600 acres of the most beautiful land,” he said. “Stewards are people who take care of that land; take care of all the people associated with it who visit, come to study and teach.”

Exactly 25 feet tall and 21.5 inches across, it’s made of a single wind-fallen, second-growth red cedar from the forest in Royal Roads University, dragged into the boathouse near Esquimalt Lagoon for LaFortune and his nephew, Howard LaFortune, to whittle down.

The totem ended up being five pieces: the main pole, made up of a single tree from top to bottom; the two arms added for the welcome figure near the bottom of the pole, and the two wings for the eagle at the top.

“When people ask me how long it took me, I tell them 42 years because that is the time it took me to become the carver I am today,” LaFortune said.

“It was a lot of fun doing it … A lot of the community, they were down here every day to watch it being made … Sharing is a big part of it.”

The totem features a frog, representing a spirit guardian, underneath a welcome figure with open arms perched under an owl, representing vision and wisdom which many students come to the school to seek.

Above the owl sit three rings, each representing a quarter century of the school’s changing lives as a university.

At the top of the pole is an eagle, the overseer, representing strength and spreading its wings to offer protection.

It is the first totem pole to grace the university’s grounds.

“We took a tree that was dead and was going to rot and put it in the boathouse and began bringing it back to life,” LaFortune said.

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