University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Photo of a totem pole
Photo by Carlo Catenazi

Stumbling Upon Cedar

Totem stands guard in University College's east staircase

One of the last things you would expect to see in University College, a prime example of Romanesque-style architecture, is a cedar totem pole.

And what a heart-stopper it can be for those rushing up the stone staircase at UC’s entrance. Totems such as this, while often used for welcoming people or marking an address, were also used as grave markers and mortuary posts. Originally from the Upper Skeena River area of British Columbia, this one was carved by a Tsimshian tribe member between 1890 and 1905. It was presented to the college in 1982 by the family, friends and former students of the late German professor Humphrey Milnes. (“Bud” was instrumental in enriching the college’s art collection.)

Standing guard on the east staircase, the totem pole has been involved in one of the longest staring contests on campus, facing down the bust of UC’s architect Frederic Cumberland on the west – and representing a unique artistic alliance between Romanesque architecture and Native Canadian art.

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