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Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2010 7:10 pm
by jon
If you ever saw it, it was hard to forget. From 1954, when CFRN-TV first signed on, until the late 1980s, a log cabin stood on the old Highway 16 just West of the then Edmonton City Limits, with a West Coast totem pole in front. This was the home of Sunwapta Broadcasting's CFRN AM, FM & TV, all under the same roof, with FM and TV transmitters "just out back" for most of those years.

The original totem was replaced when Electrohome purchased the stations in the 1980s, but has now been found. A major effort is underway to restore it.

Details, and a picture of its current sad state, are here: ... otem-pole/

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:06 pm
by drmusic
Probably of equal prominence as a landmark in Regina was the CKCK-TV 2 sign (pictured here:)


I'd sure like to know what happened to it. When they took it down in the late 80s they said they were giving it to the Western Development Museum... however years later it sat in sections behind the CTV building. I sure hope it didn't end up in a dumpster.

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 5:50 pm
by jon
CTV Edmonton (CFRN-TV) aired a special report during the supper hour News on October 22nd, with some great historical footage. My 1960s CFRN-AM QSL card, which included a classic shot of the totem, in colour, also appeared on their web site, as part of the report: ... oto_0.html

The Edmonton Broadcasters Club obtained a copy of the report directly from CTV Edmonton, and permission to post it on their site: ... itle-1.mp4 (30MB, MP4)

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 5:53 pm
by drmusic
Your last link isn't working

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 6:24 pm
by Neumann Sennheiser
Some great pictures in that first link, however.....


12 string guitar? I count six. Whats up with that?

What's the back-story on how the totem came to be the icon for CFRN / Sunwapta? I always thought that totem poles were strictly a west coast aboriginal symbol. It's still the Plains tribes even as far north as Edmonton isn't it?

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:00 pm
by drmusic
The site says the totem pole was a gift from the Muttart family. Perhaps the gift was inspired by the name Sunwapta Broadcasting, chosen by Dick Rice according to the story because it means "Radiating Waves."

There's a totem pole in Regina's Wascana Park, a gift from the province of BC on the occasion of that province's centennial.

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:36 pm
by jon
I've corrected the link to the video, both in my post above, and on the Club's web page. Here it is again: ... itle-1.mp4

The history of the totem has been more accurately determined in the last couple of months. It was carved by a well known West Coast artist named Chief Mathius Joe Capilano of the Squamish Nation who also created the Thunderbird House Pole, erected at the crest of Prospect Point in Vancouver’s Stanley Park on August 26, 1936. The totem had originally be given to Mrs. M.D. Muttart in the mid-1930s by local aboriginal peoples, as thanks for some of her charitable work. She kept it at her family's Jasper Place Lumber yard, until Mrs. Muttart gave it to CFRN owner Dr. G.R.A. Rice in 1939.

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 9:10 am
by jon
June 21, 2011

This is an update for anyone who participated, or had an interest in, the Sunwapta Totem Pole project.

Since overseeing the delivery of The Mathias/Sunwapta Totem last fall to the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM), I have been in occasional contact with them to observe their progress and research. In April of this year, I was asked to write a letter to the Edmonton Community Foundation in support of a grant proposal by The Friends of The Royal Alberta Museum Society. This letter was co-signed by two of my co-conspirators in this venture, Al Thompson and Alan Mabee. Today, I am very happy to report that a grant from The Foundation has been awarded to the Conservation Project, in the sum of $24,000. This is in addition to the $3210.00 the donor group provided to the Conservation Fund last November. This is, to say the least, a massive boost to those who have worked hard to get it this far and re-enforces the high regard The RAM, The Friends Society and Edmonton Community Foundation have for this heritage project.

What this funding will do is allow the Museum to enlist expert help in bringing the Totem to its full potential for interpretation and display. As well, it will stabilize its fragile condition after many decades in the elements. Two such experts from the West Coast will begin work almost immediately. Cody Mathias is an aboriginal totem carver and the grandson of our Totem’s original craftsman, Joe Mathias. He will bring his tools and skill to do any replacement/repair of damaged woodwork as well as consulting on the original colours used. Andrew Todd, from Bowen Island, BC is a conservator with a specialization in totem poles. He has worked with First Nations groups on numerous projects since 1987. And the most interesting part, as an observer, is the public can witness these men at their trade in the public gallery at the Museum. Both will be here from July 5 to 9, 2011 working in the alcove just to the right as you walk in the main doors of the Museum. The Totem is, in fact, there now. Carefully wrapped following storage and treatment for a slight ant issue. Yes, the Totem did have a bit if an infestation problem, but its all better now!

I would encourage anyone who is able to go down to the Museum during this week and see the work taking place first hand. After this time, the Totem will remain there for work by other conservators. There may be a need to take it away for more intense treatments as required, but it will be visible for much of the summer.

In the end, I believe the arrival and conservation of The Mathias Sunwapta Totem is very timely for its future within the Museum. Many of you will know the RAM has been in the news recently with the announcement of a major new facility announced by the Province. For those who haven’t heard, the Alberta Government will be constructing a new $340 million dollar RAM in downtown Edmonton, with an expected completion date of sometime in 2015. I hope this bodes well for the Totem as the planners and curators determine how the new galleries will take shape in the coming years. Its prominence in both funding and public profile should help its inclusion in what promises to be a spectacular showcase of our history.

Thanks for your continued interest.


John Hanson

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 9:07 pm
by jon
Edmonton’s landmark Sunwapta totem pole museum-bound
New Royal Alberta Museum will restore and display it
By Lana Cuthbertson,
July 6, 2011 7:01 PM
ref. - ... story.html

EDMONTON - The landmark Sunwapta totem pole stood in front of CFRN TV’s west-end location from 1964 until 1989.

It has since wound its way through Alberta to end up in the lobby of the Royal Alberta Museum, awaiting restoration and eventual display.

The totem pole began as a piece of cedar driftwood on the West Coast. Chief Joe Mathias, a well-known carver, made totem poles there and sold them to lumber companies. One of the poles ended up with the Muttart family of Edmonton in the 1930s.

Dr. Dick Rice, owner of Sunwapta, bought the totem pole from the Muttart family in the 1950s. When the Sunwapta Broadcasting station moved from downtown Edmonton to west Edmonton in 1964, the totem pole was displayed.

In 1989, the station underwent renovations. University of Alberta art professor Ken Macklin visited the station to look for scrap metal. Instead, he found the totem pole in a garbage bin on the property. He took it home, where it sat in his yard for five years.

Macklin sold the totem pole to George Suntjens, a campground owner, in 1994 for $450. Suntjens displayed the pole on his campground near New Sarepta and decided to auction it off last September. That’s when some employees at CTV heard about the pole.

“I was alerted to the sale by my cousin, who works with the Athabasca historical resources program,” said John Hanson, who has worked as a camera operator and photographer at the station for almost 25 years.

“I remember it from growing up in Edmonton, it was a landmark and a broadcasting icon,” Hanson said.

He and two co-workers decided they would buy the totem pole and donate it to an institution that could take care of it.

But when they started bidding, they realized they had a serious competitor.

“Another fellow was bidding fast and furious,” Hanson said. The fellow was Ken Adams, whose wife thought she might like the totem pole for their garden near Whitecourt.

Hanson introduced himself to Adams and explained the situation. Adams eventually agreed to sell it to the group of employees for what he had paid for it at auction: $3,000.

One hundred and eight former and current employees of the station donated money to cover the cost. Leftover money will help cover restoration.

Cody Mathias, grandson of the original carver, will restore the Sunwapta totem pole. It will be displayed in the new Royal Alberta Museum slated to open in 2014.

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:21 am
by TVNewsman
Ken Macklin who saved the CFRN Totem from the construction site dumpster in 1989,
admires the nearly-restored artifact with Cody Mathias and George Stokes who are descendents
of the original carver.


Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:13 am
by Mike Cleaver
This is fantastic!
Kudos to everyone involved in the project.
The totem pole still was outside the log cabin when I worked in Edmonton from '76 through '83.

Re: Saving the CFRN Sunwapta Totem Pole

PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2011 1:40 pm
by jon
Thanks to TVNewsman for pointing out that some of the links in previous posts no longer worked. I've fixed that now.

You can read the article or watch the video (click on "Totem pole rescued, restored") from today's Noon News and last night's Supper Hour News on CFRN-TV here: ... montonHome

The picture above the article, by the way, is from my mid-1960s CFRN-AM QSL card, the image of which TVNewsman restored (damaged by a CFRN typewriter) and gave to CFRN a year or so ago.