Who looks after the totem pole?

YOU ASKED:Could you find out who is responsible for the maintenance of the totem pole on the corner of Columbia Street and Summit Drive? It really needs some tender loving care re: a varnish job. It certainly deserves it.

- E. Dynneson

OUR ANSWER:We not only found out who is responsible for that 6.1-metre-tall art piece, but we uncovered some interesting history behind it.

Its name is Riverpole and Kamloops artist Vaughn Warren carved it 11 years ago as a fundraiser for a medical mission in Peru.

Warren spent more than 600 hours creating the majestic carving out of red cedar, with the hope that it would collect at least $31,000 for the project.

The fundraiser was slow to start and, for a few months, it seemed the pole was destined to spend its remaining years in the Royal Avenue backyard where it was carved.

Then, resident Audrey Danks got involved.

"Just one look at this huge sculpture prompted me to take on the task of raising the money so that the Riverpole could be bought as a legacy for the people of Kamloops," Danks said during Riverpole's dedication ceremony 10 years ago.

"This monumental carving, completed in 2002, stirs up a lot of awe in our hearts and minds."

Danks raised $10,000 and secured the location at Columbia and Summit. She collected another $20,000 from Superstore and the now-defunct Southwest Business Improvement Area Association to have Riverpole erected - with all the proceeds going to the Peru project.

The pole was officially unveiled on Nov. 18, 2003.

It continues to be owned by the City of Kamloops, which is also responsible for its maintenance.

And, you can be sure there are constant reminders from the public. Arts and community development manager Barbara Berger tells us her department gets about a dozen calls a year - with half the callers saying the pole should be power-washed or varnished and half saying they hope it will be left in a natural state like some totem poles.

So, who does the City listen to?

"We almost always defer to the artist regarding maintenance," said Berger.

In 2008, Vaughn Warren asked if the City would clean the pole and apply a fresh coat of tung oil. The City obliged, at a cost of around $3,000 to $5,000 - money out of the City's public art budget.

And another cleaning could be right around the corner.

This week, Warren sent another request to Berger - Riverpole is due for its maintenance.

"In a park or something, you would never dream of pressure washing, sanding and refinishing a totem pole, but with a pole carving such as Riverpole, in a space that it's in, it's just the thing looks tired. It does," he said on Tuesday.

"And I've received over 30 inquiries about it in the last six months."

Riverpole's location is mostly to blame. Thousands of vehicles drive past daily, depositing a constant cloud of brake and tire dust and exhaust emissions.

Rain and sun are also unforgiving.

Because of it, Warren said Riverpole needs refinishing every five years - involving a careful pressure-wash, some sanding and touch-ups, and a coat of tung oil.

If you see scaffolding and tarps over Riverpole in the coming weeks, you'll know that's exactly what's being done to it.

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