By Kevin Ward
First Nations House of Learning
Larger than a full-grown humpback whale, the Haida Looplex X Canoe is a staggering 53 feet in length, suspended from the ceiling in the atrium of the Forest Sciences Centre.
One of 4 replicas of the “Lootas” (“wave-eater”) canoe, which was carved by Haida artist Bill Reid for the 1986 Vancouver Expo in a traditional Haida style from a single red cedar log, and later famously paddled up the Seine River to Paris—the Looplex X was donated to UBC’s First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) by Dr Martine J. Reid and Don Martin in 2011.
Due to years spent in drydock, the Looplex X required extensive renovations. Its hull was cracked in numerous spots and much of its wood was warped, broken, or rotting. The original artwork was also damaged beyond recognition.
Debra Martel, FNHL Associate Director, and Professor Rob Kozak, Head of the Department of Wood Sciences, partnered on the restoration which took place at the Centre For Advanced Wood Processing.
Hereditary Haida Chief and renowned artist James Hart oversaw the canoe’s repair and the artwork’s redesign with help from young Haida artists John Brent Bennett, Brandon Brown, Mary Hart, and Carl Hart, with woodwork by Lawrence Günther of the UBC Centre for Advanced Wood Processing. The renovations were completed over a 3-year period from 2012-15.
The illustrations on the canoe depict the story of Wasgo, which goes:
A young man living in Skidegate has a very mean mother-in-law who constantly belittles him. One day he decides to capture the Wasgo, a powerful half-wolf, half-orca creature that lives in an inlet near the village and takes its powers.
Wearing the Wasgo skin, he swims in the ocean at night and captures fish and other creatures to bring back and leave for his mother-in-law to find on the beach. The mother-in-law believes she has gained special powers and uses these gifts to pursue higher status in the village.
Because the young man is secretly hunting all night, when he gets back to the village he sleeps all day, so the mother-in-law calls him lazy and ridicules him even more.
One night, the young man tries to bring back 2 orcas and dies of exhaustion on the beach as he returns. His distraught wife, who has known his secret all along, opens the Wasgo’s mouth to reveal her husband’s identity to the entire village. The mother-in-law realizes the truth behind her newfound powers and status and dies of shame.
With permission from FNHL, and the Musqueam and Haida, the Looplex X was delicately installed in the atrium of the Forest Sciences Centre. The official installation ceremony was held on November 23, 2016.
As well as adding to the Indigenous presence on campus, the Haida Looplex X Canoe also serves as a symbol of the strengthening relationship between the Faculty of Forestry, the Haida, and First Nations.
“It will, for all who see it, be a living reminder of the persistence of Haida and Aboriginal culture and of Bill Reid’s legacy. For Aboriginal students and youth, it will be a recognition of Indigenous presence at the University, and will generate excitement, pride, and encouragement to succeed.”
– Linc Kesler, Former Director of the First Nations House of Learning
Credits: Bill Reid Looplex X Canoe Installation Ceremony, Bill Reid’s Looplex X Canoe Installed at UBC, A balancing act for project services: Installing the Haida Looplex X at UBC
Indigenous Art Series: Find out where you can view Indigenous art on campus and the story behind each piece by checking out the interactive map.