Duncan’s Totem Tour

Duncan Totem 1First Nations culture has always played a huge role in life in the Cowichan Valley, to the point were the main city, Duncan, is known as The City of Totems.  There is much native history seen in every facet of life in the region, not least among them Duncan’s Totem Tour.

Beginning of Totem Tour in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

At the beginning of the Totem Tour visitors can read about the history of the project

The Totem Tour is an outdoor exhibit that embraces First Nations art and story telling via the display of more than 40 beautiful and varied totem poles located throughout the city.  The walking tour begins at the museum/old train station, where a large collection of several totems and the story behind the excursion is displayed on several information boards.           Yellow footprints on the Duncan Totem Tour, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia During the summer months the museum offers free hour-long guided tours.  Or there is the option of doing a self-guided walk with the assistance of a map and the bright yellow footprints painted on sidewalks to lead the way.  The footprint idea works very well and has been well-executed – if you are meant to be moving forward the footstep motifs point away from you.  If there is a totem to view, the footprints point inwards toward the work in question.            The tour covers about eight city blocks and takes about an hour, with plenty of time for picture taking.

world's widest totem pole in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The world’s widest totem pole, 5’11” in diameter

Each of the totems is displayed in an easily accessible spot – outside residential complexes, businesses and in the midst of busy intersections.  Every one of them has an information board alongside that tells not only the story of the totem and why it was created, but the story of the artist as well.  We discovered that several totems had been carved by carvers from First Nations around the world, adding a bit of international flair to the collection.            Unpainted totem pole in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe eclectic outdoor gallery displays many different styles of totem.  Some are painted, while others are left unadorned.  The world’s widest totem pole is in the collection – carved from a 750-year-old tree it measures 5 feet,11 inches in diameter.

Duncan Totem Tour, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Information signs tell the story of each totem and of the artist who created it

Overall, this is an easy and very interesting excursion that throws much light on to the subject of First Nations culture and the innate talent within in.  It is an hour well-spent, whether you choose to do the tour on your own or join the guided tour offered by the museum.

            Further information on the Totem Tour can be found at the museum website at:


wheelchair-lThe museum, which is also essentially the starting point for the Totem Tour, is located at 130 Canada Avenue, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.777864  Long. -123.706894

N 48 46.672 W 123 42.414


About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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