Stolen totem pole recovered

Cartoon - totempole

Credit: Shayla Duval

Dorsey James has his totem pole back.

The Scarborough sculptor, who spent this past summer creating the work with a group of 30 youth from the Malvern area, thought he’d lost a best friend when he returned from vacation in early October and found the totem gone.

“I couldn’t wait to get back home,” said James, who was the head artist and artist mentor for the summer project. “People were calling up and asking how they could assist or donate.

“It was just such a warm response coming from the community. It was hard to know how to deal with it.”

An east Scarborough resident discovered the pole in Morningside Park on Oct. 20, mere days after it was reported missing.

“That pole’s got history – right across the country,” said James, whose totem pole theft had been making headlines in cities as far as Vancouver and Montreal.

James was vacationing in southern Ontario when he learned about the totem’s disappearance sometime during the second week of October.

Elaine Coyle found the work of art while hiking down the park with her husband, Dan, and dog Storm.

“It was kind of scary because it looked like a hand,” said Coyle, who spotted the striking piece of woodwork sitting in the bushes. “It was buried under a bunch of leaves and there were logs on top of it.”

Coyle managed to bring the totem out onto the path with the help of her husband and dog.

Too hot to hang on to

“It was very heavy. I don’t know how it got in there,” Coyle said.

James still wonders what convinced the thieves to return the stunning structure.

“Media had it covered from top to bottom. My hat is off to you guys,” said James, ecstatically. “So whoever had this pole probably couldn’t wait to get it off their hands.

“One possibility is [the thieves] took it away and realized, ’This is too hot to hang on to. We can’t get it out of the city without somebody seeing it.’”

The 18-foot totem pole, which portrays the contrast of urban sprawl and green space, contains detailed carvings of plants and wildlife, as well as buildings and houses.

“It’s very intricate,” said Libby Peters, communications coordinator for Scarborough Arts Council. “It represents a whole summer worth of carving and working on the project.”

Totem found in one piece

After inspecting the totem pole, made from a recycled hydro pole, James said it was still in “pretty good condition, with minimal damage done to it.”

He attributed the pole’s great shape to Weather Bos, an environmentally-friendly wood preservative he applied after the carving was complete. James said the finishing product was very effective as it allowed the pole to withstand the rain and not deteriorate by being kept outside.

“The pole is valued in excess of $15,000,” said Peters, who added she’s relieved that the totem is in one piece. “It’s really hard to put an estimate on a piece of work like that because that number accounts for some of our fees, but it doesn’t account for the amount of time or the labour that was involved with the work.”

James doesn’t believe the culprits “realized how many lives they touched by doing what they did. It was something the kids were feeling proud of.

“It’s necessary to get that positive feedback. It’s not just done for them – it’s done for their home and their community.”

The official inauguration of the totem pole is tentatively planned for the second week of November.