Man aims to solved mystery of Edinburgh totem pole

Trevor Proverbs with the totem pole in the Royal Scots Club. Picture: contributed
Trevor Proverbs with the totem pole in the Royal Scots Club. Picture: contributed
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A totem pole might not be the first thing you’d expect to find in the lounge of the Royal Scots Club on Abercromby Place.

Surrounded by military memorabilia it blends into the woodwork – some long-serving members of staff don’t know it’s there – but one man has been trying to piece together the puzzle of how it came to be in Edinburgh at all.

Trevor Proverbs followed in the totem’s footsteps when he travelled to the Capital from Canada earlier this year to see it in situ as part of his research into his father Rupert Stanley Proverbs’ involvement in its journey to Scotland.

It started life as one of a pair of totem poles outside a fur and novelty store in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, owned by a Mr Goldbloom.

The poles were securely wired to the wall of the shop to deter souvenir hunters, but for the 2nd Canadian Scottish Regiment, posted in Prince Rupert in November 1939, the reinforcements made the challenge of removing one of them all the more tempting.

On discovering one morning that he had been “relieved” of one of his totem poles, Mr Goldbloom complained to police, who soon discovered that a group of Canadian Scottish soldiers had been spotted in the vicinity that night and were reported to have been “in a festive mood”. The exact events around the removal of the pole remain unclear but it certainly accompanied the regiment to Debert, Nova Scotia, where it appeared, freshly painted, outside one of the huts in the camp.

Picture; contributed

Picture; contributed

“I heard the story when I was a child but it was last year when I first contacted the Royal Scots Club,” said Mr Proverbs.

“My father’s involvement was from the very beginning. At the beginning of the Second World War he was with a group of around 80 men transported to a community on the north coast of British Columbia called Prince Rupert. They were there from 1939 to 1940.

“The story was that they relieved a man of his totem pole. A pole like this was usually for a specific family but there was a man called Charlie Dudoward who was carving these poles for commercial establishments in Prince Rupert.”

When the regiment was sent to the UK in 1941, the pole went as well. “How it actually got to the Royal Scots Club I don’t know but what I do know is that in August of 1943, the Canadian Scottish came up from southern England to Scotland and arrived in Edinburgh,” said Mr Proverbs.

On August 31, 1943, some of the officers visited the Royal Scots Club. It is assumed that it was on this occasion that they gifted the totem pole to the club, where it has remained ever since.

Morag Martin, revenue manager at the Royal Scots Club, welcomed Mr Proverbs to Edinburgh in May. “Mr Proverbs was pleased to be here and he got a bit more information to take away with him,” said Ms Martin.

“We have got the original club secretary’s medals but nothing quite as odd as the totem pole. It’s not the most military of artefacts – most people don’t even notice it. It’s nice to know the story and be able to tell people about it.

“It’s a fun story – the idea of these guys ‘acquiring’ a totem pole on a night out and transporting it with them around the country.”

For Mr Proverbs the visit to Edinburgh was a chance to see the totem pole first hand.

“I was hoping I would find something in the Prince Rupert newspaper from that time but there was nothing in it about the pole being taken,” said Mr Proverbs. It was quite a find when the club sent me more information. It’s good to see that it’s being taken care of.”