Duncan, British Columbia: City of Totems

When Tom and I went on our trip to Vancouvers Island last week, we spent the night in Duncan.  On Monday we drove through the city on our way to the Cowichan Valley Trailhead and noticed all the totem poles.  After deciding not to ride on Tuesday, we drove to downtown Duncan to check out the totem poles.

Duncan is the unofficial capital of the fertile Cowichan Valley.  Although there are only 5,000 people living in the town limits, Duncan is contiguous with North Cowichan and serves a population of 80,000 people in the area.  The town is located halfway between Victoria and Nanaimo.  A sizeable Coast Salish native population lives in and around Duncan.

Duncan became the City of Totems in 1985 when Mayor Douglas Barker proposed erecting totems through the town to draw in visitors and celebrate the shared heritage of the area with the Quw’utsun people.  Originally 40 poles were erected throughout the city.  Today there are more than 80 distinctive poles.

Even the drinking fountain is a totem!

We spent some time walking along the lovely streets of historic downtown.  There are lots of shops and restaurants – over 300 in the downtown area.  Some were tourist-type shops, but many reflected the cultural diversity of the area.  I think we found most of the totems and read a few of the informational signs beside them.  The symbolism is as diverse as the stores and people represented.

We also checked out the historical museum, located in the old railroad depot.  Although we only had fifteen minutes in the museum before it closed, but it turned out 15 minutes was plenty!  We even spent a little while talking to the volunteer at the desk.

The old railroad tracks and the Historical Museum
Totems beside the historical museum
Methodist missionary ball
City hall
The streets are narrow and often one-way
Artistic gazebo for concerts
Totems mixed in with stores
This totem looks like the building behind it
Another totem
Crowded coffee shop
Island Bagel Company
Best bagels ever!

We enjoyed watching several tour buses load and unload visitors.  The totem draw seems to be working well for the city.  Tom and I ate lunch at The Island Bagel Company.  We got egg salad on whole wheat bagels.  The bagel was the best bagel I ever ate.  I could tell it had just been baked that morning.  It was crisp on the outside and chewy and moist on the inside.  So good and a perfect size to fuel us for continued adventures on the island.

Duncan won’t make anyone’s top 10 cities to visit list, but it is a delightful town with plenty to offer.  If you find yourself on Vancouvers Island, take a day to explore the City of Totems.