Dreamwork of the Whales

This magnificent piece of art is located in Little Norway Park and has an extraordinary story behind it’s creation. In celebration of the work, the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association and some of the artists involved with its creation are holding an event in the park this Wednesday June 3rd at 6:45 p.m.  From the media advisory:

The Dreamwork of the Whales was conceived and produced by the Ne Chi Zu Works, a group of Toronto-born artists living in Vancouver. The first creative seed was planted in late 1979 when two of the artists were back home in Toronto and visited the new Harbourfront Contemporary Art Gallery. While viewing the exhibit, they were overheard commenting about the quality of the art on display by an American artist: “We’ve got better Canadian artists than this, why aren’t they showing some of their stuff?” The gallery manager struck up a conversation, and before long the two artists left with a cheque for the seed money to get the project started!

The group retained artist Georganna Malloff to create the conceptual design. Five months of organizing and fundraising followed before a 700-year-old tree was chosen on a forestry site near Squamish, British Columbia. The artists were members of Ne Chi Zu Works, a group of Toronto-born artists living in Vancouver (the group’s name comes from a Nootka phrase meaning, “To see yourself through the eyes of another.”) Among the earliest donors was the logging camp that donated the tree and the City of Vancouver, which was persuaded to provide a grant for a work of art destined for downtown Toronto! The log travelled on a flatbed by train to Toronto and found what was expected to be a temporary home in the open expanse of green at the foot of Bathurst Street in the spring of 1980. In-kind donors ranged from Kodak (supplying film to document the process), to a concrete manufacturer located nearby, a crane company that assisted in raising the finished work, and Esso which donated a specialty oil used to coat the sculpture. The City of Toronto assisted with a grant and permitted the site to be used by the sculptors for the 5-month span of actual carving work.

Starting in late spring 1980, the cedar was transformed by the talented hands of principal designer/sculptors Ben Barclay, Julian Bowron, Lynn Daly, Daniel Gauvin and Earl Thomlinson. Staying in a home donated by friends, the artists donated over 4 months of their time, aided by Georganna and several guest carvers, to shape the carving, which was raised by hand with 300 volunteers on Oct 13th, 1981.

Photos by Shaun Merritt


  1. A correction: The Ne Chi Zu works was an off-child of the Ne Chi Zu Guild formed in Vancouver, B.C. to continue the ideas of the Habitat Forum, a U.N. conference held in Vancouver in 1976…the idea of the Cosmic Maypole was originated by Georganna who created the first one, a 76 ft. pole now in New Westminster B.C. Friendship Gardens..these Toronto kids were invited to work with and learn from Georganna at Jericho Park…they got Harbourfront Art Gallery to have Georganna design and originate the story..Dreamwork of the Whales and to instruct them on how to execute this work. They had never done one of their own before. Kalli Paakspuu did a documentary on this project funded by Muliticulturalism, Secretary of State…which should set the record straight. No monies were given to these workers. Only a small travel grant for Georganna, a Canadian to travel to Toronto from Vancouver to co-ordinate this project. Without her this project would not have even been approved, as Anita AAhrons needed an artist with a track record to assure its realization. Credit where credit is due. Georganna will be at this celebration to meet and greet. The sculpture has never been paid for either as the mayor seized it from Harbourfront, though Georganna and the Guild had a valid contract. Will the mayor recognize this and do the right thing? Will the truth be known?

  2. Beautiful photos, Shaun! I especially like the one showing the painted bench.

    A group of young artists in the neighbourhood, under the leadership of Michael Brown, painted four benches near the maypole, picking up motifs from the many images in The Dreamwork of the Whales, so the collaboration continues!

    The neighbourhood has started a petition to press the City to take the remaining preservative measures this work in wood requires so it can last for generations to come. Also, some appropriate signage seems called for, naming the artists and telling the maypole’s story so visitors can appreciate it more readily.

  3. Brian…it will be great to meet you and the others today at the cospole and meet others involved with the continuing process of keeping the cospole alive…we should meet and share more details..basically, the carvers were apprentices on this project, never having done totems of their own…as Kalli’s film shows, I instructed how the 7 layers of the design should be executed,referring to other original members of the Guild, mature carvers and how they created forms in space..how they created receeding planes when it came to the 7 sacred cities, for example..I am known for allowing creative interpretation of my images if they add to the total continuity of the pole. You can see that this cospole is certainly integrated and not a hodgepodge of unrelated forms. I have taught at numerous colleges and universities and created 12 cospoles over the years, including some in europe and slavic countries. I can give praise to the apprentices for their other organization and persistance in executing the designs..but none of them at 20 years old had either the education or research and experience in fine woodworking, or the recognition or ability to design an integrated mythological artwork. My resume will show this as will photos of the orignal blueprint which was copyrighted. I was also an art coordinator of an entire county at one time and taught artists copyright ownership…hope you understand that it is important that all the facts are set straight on any future PR or websites.

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