One of the country’s most accomplished totem carvers calls Gravenhurst home.

Wayne T. Hill has carved over 450 totems in his career.  His client list has a wide range of non-traditional customers and takes on all aspects of modern life. Traditional totems focus on things like spirit animals and geographic references. A Wayne Hill totem could feature wakeboarding or fishing or whatever sport you might be in to.

It all started back around 1983 when Hill was a log home builder. The economy for such extravagances had bottomed out and he was looking for alternative sources of income. A friend had stumbled upon a bunch six-foot totem poles in Florida, brought them back to Port Carling and sold them out in minutes. That is when he came to Hill with a proposition.

He adopted what is known as the West Coast style, made popular by the Haida Gwaii of the north coast of British Columbia. And people loved them. In short order, he was making as much as when he was building log homes.

What came next was requests to be taught how to carve these works of art. “I’ve had natives from BC, a woman from Vienna, Austria and a couple from Holland all come and take my course,” recounts Hill. The teaching also led to the publishing of a book on the art of making a totem, which includes a sanctioning foreword from a Haida Gwaii group of elders. 

His work can be large so Hill has had to conquer some engineering challenges as well. He recently installed two 24 foot totems at a Muskoka area cottage. The totems are actually constructed from three eight-foot sections and assembled on site.

Hill, who is also a boat builder, essentially created canoe style hulls (minus the pointy ends)  from a framework and carved the rounded bottoms and put them together after the carving was done. Hill says it is slow work, with a typical order taking about eight or nine months from end to end.  It is physical work as well the 67-year-old says. “I don’t use any power tools,” he explains. “It is all hand carving.”

His work can be seen around the world with 12 on display in Germany and 20 in Florida, with another in Arizona. One of his largest works is on display at the Bass Pro Shop at the Vaughan Mills Centre north of Toronto. There are two 16 feet tall totems and a 16 foot arch across with a massive eagle in the middle. “It is a pretty dynamic piece,” he says of the Bass Pro Shop work.