Hjalmer Wenstob gifted a carving of an orca dorsal fin to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Sunday.
The 25 year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation artist was joined by his brother Timothy Masso to present the sculpture to Parks Canada during the Pacific Rim Whale Festival’s closing ceremonies at the Kwisitis Visitors Centre.
“I’d like to thank the Spirit Chief of the sea for whales, I would like to thank the Spirit Chief of the land for the cedar that gave up itself. I would like to thank the Spirit Chief beyond the horizon,” Masso said.
“We have a lot of stories of the spirit of the whale being held in the orca fin,” Wenstob said. “This isn’t about our whaling history as much as it’s about our relationship to whales. Our relationship to whales on the coast goes back thousands of years. We did hunt and we did eat whales, but we also had a very important and strong connection to whales…We want to put this up for people to remember that important relationship that we had and still have today.”
Wenstob explained the roughly three-metre high sculpture took about a week to create and was carved with help from around 50 Ucluelet Secondary School students at workshops held daily at his Cedar House Gallery during the Whale Festival.
“The youth were so vital to the creation of this piece and the love that went into and the stories and songs that went into it. It became a community that happened around creating this,” he said.
“Over the course of Whale Fest. they learned how to use some of the traditional tools, we shaped it, carved it and then painted this whale fin and we wanted to donate it back to our communities, our shared communities. So, we decided that the Pacific Rim National Park, which kind of ties us all together on the coast here, would be a beautiful space and a beautiful reminder of our relationship to whales but also our relationship to the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht; where I’m from.”
The carving workshops were launched as part of Wenstob’s grand opening of the gallery, which he said he hopes to transform into a place to share songs, language and stories.
“It’s important that, when you’re learning language or you’re learning about each other, to embrace each other and to find a way to work together,” he said. “We want to make a space where we can come together and do this work and learn from each other and grow.”
He added that the statue will be mounted on a concrete wave and placed at either Incinerator Rock at Long Beach or along the Park Reserve’s ʔapsčiik t’ašii—pronounced ‘Ups-cheek ta-shee’—trail.
The Park Reserve’s Superintendent Karen Haugen was thrilled to receive the piece.
“Parks Canada is very excited about this gift because it’s an opportunity to showcase to the thousands of visitors in this wonderful park Tla-o-qui-aht culture, history and the connection to our wildlife,” she said. “To know that local students had a hand in creating such an amazing sculpture with local artist Hjalmer Wenstob is added value.”