Cool with a “K” Ketchikan

“Next stop…  Ketchikan, Alaska!”

We already learned a bit about the Tlingit Natives in Hoonah, but also wanted to learn about the Haida tribe.  Ketchikan was the perfect place to do just that!  When I did some research, I found out that the Totem Bight State Park was one of the top three things to experience in Ketchikan and it had totem poles from both the Haida and Tlingit tribes. It is a park with 13 different totem poles and a Native Long House.

Totem Bight State Historical Park

Totem Bight State Historical Park

Below, I will share some of the most interesting things I learned and saw at the park.

Identifying the Animals

The first three animals below, are the most important to both Native groups.

The Thunderbird

The Thunderbird is one of the most important animals in the Tlingit and Haida cultures.  You can usually find it on the top of totem poles with outstretched wings and a straight beak with a downward curve at the end.

The bird is the Thunderbird


The Raven

The Raven can usually be identified by its long, sharp and pointed downward beak. There is a Native story where Raven is said to have given sunlight, moonlight and stars to all people…



The Eagle

The Eagle can usually be identified by its curved beak that is a bit smaller than Raven’s. The Eagle also has a visible tongue.

Here is an Eagle

Here is an Eagle

The Killer Whale and Blackfish

The Haida believed that killer whales and blackfish were actually people who have drowned and are coming to visit you. They can be found easily because of their dark colour, their big dorsal fin and their blowhole that is usually the face of a person. Their big round eyes can also help to identify them.

The blackfish

The blackfish/whale

The Frog

The frog is important when its totem pole is on top of a house because it is said to keep the house from falling over. It can be identified because of it’s big and wide mouth and big eyes. It has no tail, no teeth or ears.

Here is the frog

Here is the frog

The Watchman

The watchman can be found on the tops of totem poles on roofs of houses.  It is said that he warns the owner of approaching enemies. He can be identified by his human figure and a top hat.

The Watchman

I think this is the Watchman

The Bear

The bear can be identified because of its big nostrils and wide mouth full of sharp teeth. It also has paws and big ears on the top of its head.

We think the bear is the animal in the middle

We think the bear is the animal in the middle

The Beaver

The Beaver is a crest in the Haida tribe and is in many legends. Click here to read the story on why it is a crest. The beaver can be identified by its two big front teeth and a stick that is usually held in the beaver’s mouth or paws.

The beaver under the eagle

The beaver under the eagle

There are many more, but the animals listed above are the most important.

Here are some of my favorite totem poles.

The Master Carver Pole

This pole was designed and carved by a man named John Wallace. On the top of the pole is the Eagle. Below that is beaver, then a bullhead then a raven. Under the raven is a bear and a blackfish. The native at the bottom is the Master Carver.  His job was to teach the rest of the Haida tribe how to carve totems.

The faces carved on the Master Carver’s necklace represented experiences and lessons that were learned.

I liked this one because it has so many different animals.

The Sea Monster Pole

This pole was also carved by John Wallace. The village watchman is standing at the top. Under him are two eagles. Under the eagles are faces that represent clouds and mountains – the eagle’s home. Under that is a carved face that represents the home of the blackfish. The creature with the big beak is the mythical sea monster. The tentacles and the face below represent a devilfish eating up the human below.

I liked this one because it was very colourful.

The Thunderbird and Whale

This Haida pole is small but one of my favourites. On the top, there is a thunderbird. Thunder is said to be created by the thunderbird when it flaps it’s wings and lightning is said to be created with a blink of the birds eyes. The thunderbird lives on top of a mountain. The whale underneath represent the mountain that the thunder bird lives on.

I liked this one because it was really neat to learn about the Thunderbird. I also think the whale is really cute.

The Whale and Thunderbird

The Whale and Thunderbird

The Halibut Pole

This pole is from the Tlingit tribe and honors the Halibut house people in the Naxadi clan . The Halibut is a funny fish because both of it’s eyes are on one side. My family calls it “the flat fish”. I like this pole because I like halibut fish.

The Blackfish Pole

This pole is also from the Tlingit tribe. Sticking out the top of the pole is the dorsal fin of a blackfish. Under the fin is Raven and then Natsiline, the chief, who is holding the blackfish. The human at the bottom represents the evil brothers.  Click here to read the great story about Natsiline and the first killer whale/blackfish.

One of my favourite parts about this pole is that the blowhole on the blackfish looks like a face which I thought was really interesting.  Again, the natives believed killer wales/blackfish were victims of drowning who were coming to visit.

The Wandering Raven Entrance Pole

This pole was the entrance to a native house. The small, narrow entrance was perfect for protection during war because only one person could fit through it.

At the top of the pole is Raven who has the box with daylight inside of it. Under that is a mink and a frog and then Natsiline. Under him is Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass, the man who owned the boxes with the sun, the moon and stars, and under him is raven’s mother. This pole tells the story of Raven giving daylight.

I liked this pole because I already learned the story when we were in Hoonah

The house with the enterance pole in the middle

The house with the entrance pole in the middle

Another thing I found interesting was that when totem poles begin to rot, they are taken down so they can return to the earth.

The totem poles are on the ground

The totem poles are on the ground

Here are some more photos from the park:


The Totem Bight State Park reminded me of the William Ricketts Sanctuary in Melbourne, Australia.  Ricketts told aboriginal stories through carvings.

Our  next stop in Ketchikan was Creek Street. It was really neat to walk through because instead of a road for cars and trucks, there was a creek. There were sidewalks and shops and a “museum” called Dolly’s House, but it was not appropriate for Mikhaila and I to visit.

Creek Street reminded me of Venice, Italy because of the water instead of a road.

I liked Ketchikan, but unfortunately we had to skip the elk burgers (that’s a whole other story) and get back onto the ship and head for our final stop on the cruise… Vancouver.

Posing with one of the totem poles

Posing with one of the totem poles

6 thoughts on “Cool with a “K” Ketchikan”

  1. Herta Park says:

    I did get to see Dolly’s house… You didn’t miss much. The totem park was most interesting and the background / history very informative . Were any actually being carved while you were there? Thanks for all of the info and the amazing pictures.
    You had your coats on… What was the weather like? Was it warmer back in Vancouver ?
    Home soon!

    1. Zoe says:


      No totem poles were being carved while we were there. But we have met the person who carved some big totem poles near our home in Canada!

      The weather was cool. Definitely not as warm as Hawaii! 🙂

      Nope! Not home soon! We tricked everyone! 🙂

  2. Baba says:

    Hi Zoe,
    WOW! That was very interesting! Thanks for teaching me about. the meanings of all the carvings on the totem poles. Perhaps you will be able to tell me what the totem pole in Thomson Memorial Park represents! Although you are wearing coats, it does look very lush. I love the photo of the two of you around the last totem pole. Love, Baba

    1. Zoe says:


      I might be able to tell you which animals are on the pole, but every pole has a different story to tell.

      There was no snow, so that is a good thing! 🙂

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