World's Largest Totem Pole – Alert Bay, British Columbia - Atlas Obscura

World's Largest Totem Pole

Alert Bay, British Columbia

This towering totem holds the title for the tallest in the world but only according to some. 


At 173 feet tall, the wooden tribal totem in Alert Bay, British Columbia is demonstrably the tallest tower of its kind in the entire world, but many people have argued that for a number of reasons it is not worthy of the surprisingly contentious title. 

The totem pole was built from two sections, one 163 feet tall and the other 10 feet. While most totem poles represent a single family, this one is meant to represent different factions of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The figures include the Sun Man, a whale, an old man, a wolf, the Thunderbird and its cousin, the Kulusł, a two-headed serpent, a bear holding a salmon, and a raven holding copper. 

Despite the raw numbers that the Alert Bay totem pole holds the title with, hardcore totem pole enthusiasts have called foul on the carved wood spire due to the fact that it was built from two pieces rather than one. According to such record pedants, the true heir to the title of world’s tallest totem pole is a 140 foot pole located in Kalama, Washington, which is one solid length of wood. However because it was not carved by an indigenous artisan some do not count it as a proper totem pole either.

This categorization is so contentious that the world’s former tallest totem pole, a 185 foot giant that stood in Victoria British Columbia (which was also built in sections) was actually taken down after a great deal of protest. However, even when a vicious wind knocked off the Alert Bay totem pole’s top section it was still the tallest in the world.

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