George Pepper

Totem Poles, Kitwanga

A native of Ottawa, George Pepper studied at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto with Group of Seven members J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) and Arthur Lismer (1885-1969). He returned to Ottawa in 1925 with his wife and fellow artist Kathleen Daly to work as a draughtsman for the Department of the Interior. In the mid 1920s Marius Barbeau, ethnologist at the National Museum, and the Department of the Interior worked together to restore totem poles in the Gitxsan villages on the Skeena River in British Columbia, a project directly related to tourist promotion by the Canadian National Railway. With permission of the poles' owners, the totem restoration program began in 1925 at Kitwanga - now Gitwangak - which soon became a regular stop for passengers on the Canadian National Railway train to Prince Rupert. Emily Carr (1871-1945) had been one of the first artists to paint the poles of Gitwangak in 1912 and in 1926 Barbeau invited A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974) and Edwin Holgate (1892-1977) to draw and paint in the region. The result was the major "Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern" shown at the National Gallery in December 1927. The following summer George Pepper and Ottawa artist Pegi Nicol (1904-1949) travelled to the Skeena to sketch and paint. Each pole belonged to the successor of the person who initially erected it and the depicted figures narrated legends related to that family, asserting their position within the larger community. The painting is not a true image of the poles at Gitwangak though two poles can be identified. At centre is the pole of the Mountain Lion that belonged to Wallace Morgan and the smaller Dog Salmon pole in the background belonged to Mrs. Augustus Sampare.
Totem Poles, Kitwanga
oil on canvas
91.6 x 71 cm
Credit line
Purchased 1930
Accession number

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