Stelly’s students and visitors will be greeted by a new welcome sign near the school’s front doors, created by Stelly’s grad Charles Elliott Jr. (Chazz), son of master carver Charles Elliott Sr.
The sign features a swan and a welcome figure on each end. The figures have their hands raised, symbolizing welcome and thank you. In the centre is a trilingual message in English, French and Sencoten.
It reads: “Thank you all — it is really nice that you have arrived.”
The sign was unveiled on Thursday night before Stelly’s annual Meet the Teacher night. In an interview, Elliott said he was approached by the school last fall. Stelly’s was seeking a local artist for a welcome sign. Phil Tom, an Indigenous education assistant at Stelly’s put Elliott’s name forth and he said yes right away.
Elliott began as an artist in high school, assisting his father with his commissions. His father created a flat-backed totem pole outside Saanich Peninsula Hospital, the Queen’s Baton for the 15th Commonwealth Games in 1994, and a Talking Stick for Nelson Mandela (among many others). Through that, Elliott started receiving his own commissions, with people beginning to take notice of his artwork alongside his father’s.
The land upon which Stelly’s Secondary School is built was a swampy ground prior to colonization, called ȾIḴEL, where his ancestors would gather certain sacred medicines. It was drained for farmland, and Elliott said there was some sadness in the story.
“My ancestors, my great grandmothers, they cried for days when they drained the swamp here because it was a place of only gathering certain sacred medicines.”
The wood came from the bottom of Heal Lake, which was drained to expand the Hartland landfill in 1991. The ancient fir is dated to be between 4,000 and 10,000 years old, preserved by glacier water over the millennia. It was donated to the school by the federal government’s Pacific Forestry Centre.
The work began in the Stelly’s wood shop, where teacher Tim Lockhart helped him laminate the fir together. Elliott said it must have been damaging on his tools because of the wood’s hardness. He created the actual design at his father’s studio. Elliott asked Lockhart to help unveil the sign with him because of his help.
As swans still return to ȾIḴEL, they were included in the sign to represent the environment and beauty of the area. Small circles on either side have become a motif for Elliott, because “they have no start, they have no end, they include all.” He felt the inclusivity of the circle was fitting, because the school had many people of all ages and backgrounds.
He sees his role as an artist as akin to a historian who documents teachings and stories.
“We didn’t have a writing form, we used artwork to describe our teachings, so when we have a story pole, it’s the whole story.”
He said his art is inspired by his father, and the ancestors before him. “Everything I put out here was received along the line.”
He said he was grateful to Gord Redlin and his friends and family who came to the unveiling.
“I waited the whole summer for the actual unveiling and now that it’s here it’s kind of unreal. It’s a good feeling.”