‘Healing totem’ mysteriously stolen

Patrick Ryan doesn't know why he decided to carve his totem pole. The former welder and furniture restorer was hit head-on in a car accident in Surrey, BC, in December 2000.

Patrick Ryan doesn’t know why he decided to carve his totem pole.

The former welder and furniture restorer was hit head-on in a car accident in Surrey, BC, in December 2000.

His brain injury symptoms included nine years of fugue amnesia, a debilitating loss of memory that made life nearly impossible.

Ryan lived most of those years in Surrey, attending rehabilitation therapy and learning the tricks that would one day bring him back independence.

Those days are fuzzy – Ryan only knew who he was or what he was doing half the time, he said.

But during bouts of mental clarity, he began carving a 5.4-metre cedar plank he’d been saving in his workshop.

“It’s my path from light to darkness,” says Ryan, 59, who now lives in Teslin. “It was my connection between reality and nonreality.”

Topped with a raindrop and a salmon, the totem includs bears, frogs, wolves, rabbits, a raven, a thunderbird and a beaver.

Colourful in black, pine green, red and white, the totem was influenced by First Nation culture.

Ryan, however, has no aboriginal heritage. He’s originally from a small Newfoundland fishing village called Ferryland.

“It was like the Tlingits here say: part of the land, part of the water,” he said. “That was us, we fished and we farmed.”

He moved to Toronto in the 1970s and then to BC in 1992.

Ryan floated between welding and furniture refurbishing in those younger days – but his accident sent his life into a tailspin.

His short-term memory is spotty; he’ll easily forget where he parked his car or what day of the month it is.

But in a small town, it doesn’t matter so much. So doctors told him to move to back to rural Canada in 2008. He moved to Teslin in August of that year after driving through the village with his son.

Then, this August, his brother and five others helped him erect his “healing totem,” as Ryan calls it, on the front lawn of his Teslin home.

It stood proud for several months, garnering attention from crowds entering the Teslin Recreation Centre across the street.

“Every time there was a party, a dance, a potlatch, people would come over and take photos,” he said.

On Saturday, Ryan came back from his part-time shift at the Teslin dump at around 8 p.m.

“Even though the totem pole was gone, I couldn’t tell it was missing,” said Ryan.

Someone had cut the pole down and taken it away.

“If someone wants to keep it and put it on a cabin, go ahead,” he said.

“Just as long as they don’t destroy it.”

Ryan doesn’t know of any enemies in town.

“People have been really friendly here,” he said.

He’s worried he may have offended a First Nation person who felt their culture was being appropriated.

Before he erected it, Ryan asked a few First Nation people in town about whether his totem was offensive.

“There was no reaction, actually,” he said. “I have some native friends here, and I think I’m accepted by the native community.”

Most people were impressed by the pole and enjoyed its presence on his lawn.

“I never felt like I was being targeted,” he said. “It’s baffling how you take something like that.”

Ryan only has faint memories of its carving.

His son and daughter have since filled him in on those hazy post-accident days.

He would usually go to his workshop and carve between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m, according to Ryan’s daughter.

“I’ve got no carving tools, no carving skills,” he said.

He does remember a book with First Nation art patterns in it, but that’s about it.

The cedar plank,about 30 centimetres thick by 15 centimetres across, was taken from a West Vancouver home.

A couple remodelled their house and the log was a piece of the fireplace mantle.

He believes it was really old.

Ryan counted 92 rings in the plank and the house was already 50 years old.

“And the trees on that property were 400 years old,” he said.

With a small utility knife, he carved several traditional totem animals and included his own designs.

On the back of the pole, Ryan etched the word “Survivors.”

“I was part of a brain-survivors’ society at the time,” he said.

During those carving years, he could have a hard time tying his shoelace.

“I wasphysicallyfit, but everything I did was off,” he said.

Brain therapists put his daily schedule on a Palm Pilot, setting alarms for breakfast, laundry and the like.

The move to Teslin was meant to be easier on him.

“Growing up, my dream was to live in the Yukon by a lake in a cabin,” he said.

“But now it’s turning into a nightmare.”

People have expressed their anger over the stolen pole.

“That was as popular in Teslin as the Statue of Liberty in New York,” he said.

Police are investigating, but have very few leads, said Constable Michael Muller. They’re currently conducting interviews with neighbours.

The tracks from the totem pole being dragged end at the road, leaving little indication of how the 90- to 130-kilogram pole was taken.

The police told Ryan it was taken by snowmobile, he said.

Before erecting the totem, Ryan filmed it lying against his truck and uploaded the movie on Youtube. It’s titled teslin totems.

Ryan still has a blue garbage can filled with the woodchips he amassed in Surrey during the carving.

“That’s all I’ve got left,” he said. “Just the chips.”

No one from the Teslin Tlingit Council or the Village of Teslin office was available to comment for this story.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Hans Gatt wins inaugural 2021 Yukon Journey

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Most Read