Artist Joe Mandur conceived of the tribute pole to master carver Freda Diesing in 2005. In 3.5 years of actual carving, more than 2,700 people have participated in the pole’s creation. Here, Mandur is pictured with a scale-model sitting atop the 12-metre pole under construction.

Carver seeks assistance of remaining 1,300

Joe Mandur’s community totem pole now in fourth year of carving

As the new year dawns, Terrace carver Joe Mandur is 2,700 steps closer to completing his long-running, much-talked-about, epic community-built totem pole.

In late 2005 Mandur conceived his vision of having 4,000 people help him carve a 12-metre red cedar totem pole in honour of his late mentor, master carver Freda Diesing.

Since work began in his Kitsumkalum Canyon studio years ago, hundreds of Terracites have dropped by to hammer out a few chips. Now half way through the fourth year of actual carving, Mandur wanted to thank the community for its support and invite the few uninitiated to help finish the job.

“The project is based on all these people coming for Freda, to honour her as continuing to be a teacher, even though she’s passed,” he said

One of the first female carvers, Freda Diesing was a master in her craft and is regarded today as key figure in the reclamation and re-awakening of Haida culture. She passed away in 2002.

“I’ve had about 50 teachers, and Freda was one of the ones I’m most grateful to,” Mandur said. “[She] changed my life and I think everyone who comes and carves on the pole, it will change their life too in a way.”

Everyone is welcome, he added, saying the youngest so far was just seven months old, and the oldest 99 years.

Read more: Artist’s print to raise money for salmon conservation

Mandur arrived at the number of 4,000 co-carvers to ensure all area school children would have the chance to participate. But as the project whittled into shape, word of the carving began spreading well beyond the Northwest to great interest of provincial, national and then international audiences. A guest book, swollen with signatures, lists the wide-ranging backgrounds of participants, from common residents to acclaimed artists, tourists to politicians and spiritual leaders to renowned human rights champions.

Read more: Carvings will be used to help promote First Nations tourism

While no work yet has been made on the aesthetic face of the pole, the back and core have been completely carved out. It’s a crucial phase amounting to one-third of the overall work to prevent the pole from splitting. Both sides are smooth to the touch, and only six inches of rough wood along the length remain to be carved off the front. Only then can Mandur begin the diligent work of carving the actual imagery into the pole, before finally deciding on a place to see it raised.

“From the bottom of my heart, it’s a beautiful thing that all these people came,” Mandur said. “Now I’m putting out the call for the last 1,300.”

Mandur began carving in 1979 and was formally adopted by a Haida family in 2000. To participate in the project, call Joe Mandur at 250-635-1864 to arrange a time.

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