Patrick Hunt

Spirit of heritage embodied in whale carving

Patrick Hunt is performing a traditional First Nations blessing on the wood to ensure a smooth process for carver Brad Roberts

An entire school of children watches in fascination as two members of the Campbell River Indian Band circle an old cedar log outside Miracle Beach Elementary.

Patrick Hunt is performing a traditional First Nations blessing on the wood to ensure a smooth process for carver Brad Roberts who will be transforming the cedar stump into a pole featuring a grey whale. The carving will mark the 30th anniversary of the school which sits on the traditional lands of the K’ómoks First Nation.

Sherry Laffling, principal of Miracle Beach Elementary, said the pole will not only celebrate the milestone but is also a nod to the school’s culture and heritage.

“It’s for the 30th anniversary of Miracle Beach school but also to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the school,” Laffling says. “Approximately 30 students are of aboriginal ancestry and we want to acknowledge that part of our school.”

Roberts, who is donating his time to carve the pole, said he chose a grey whale because it fits in with the theme of the school which has a large grey whale skeleton suspended from the roof just beyond the front doors.

“This is a grey whale crazy school,” says Roberts, who intends to begin carving in the first week of May. He expects, with the help of some trusty assistants, to finish the carving within a couple of weeks.

“There’s things like sanding and painting that I’ll need some assistants for,” Roberts says. “I’ll get the kids to help with anything that I feel I can hand over. Once you touch it, everybody has a hands-on experience and it gives it a more unique sense of partnership.”

And Roberts knows a thing or two about collaboration. His first gig was as an assistant on a pole his grandfather William Roberts, a former chief of the Campbell River Indian Band, carved more than 25 years ago. The pole, which features a grey whale and which stands outside the Thunderbird Hall, has since been re-built and nieces and nephews have had a hand in painting and sanding.

Like Roberts’ grandfather’s pole, Miracle Beach’s carving is a partnership in its own rite.

The eight foot red cedar came from the West Coast of Vancouver Island near Queen’s Cove on Ehattesaht First Nation territory and was donated by Aat’uu Forestry which is owned by the Ehattesaht First Nation. TimberWest facilitated the transport of the log. Roberts said the trip took about four hours before coming to rest just outside the front doors of Miracle Beach Elementary.

He said he looks forward to the having the students helping and coming to watch as he transforms the cedar into a legacy for the school.