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New Visitor Centre opened by blessing of Guidance and Teaching totem pole

Cowichan Tribes members Lawrence Joe (left) Fred Roland and Harold Joe Sr. bless the Guidance and Teaching Pole during Friday
Cowichan Tribes members Lawrence Joe (left) Fred Roland and Harold Joe Sr. bless the Guidance and Teaching Pole during Friday's opening of the new Cowichan Region Visitor Centre.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Salish elder carver Harold Joe Sr. gently touches the intricately carved Nuu-Cha-Nulth totem pole displayed in Cowichan region's new Visitor Centre during Friday's opening ceremonies.

He, Fred Roland and Lawrence Joe were helped by Tzinquaw Dancers Lawrence Jr., Benny George, and newcomer Brandon Price during three sacred songs blessing the Guidance and Teaching Pole.

The masterpiece of mythical beings is insured by, and on permanent from, Island Savings.

Joe explains the 8 1/2-foot cedar artwork, carved by Jimmy John, son Norman, and grandson Eddie, is a perfect fit for the $1.3-million centre as a welcoming and guiding work.

"It will help guide them here, and back to their destination," Joe said of the pole depicting a whaler, orcas, and a wolf guiding the hunt.

Joe also helped restore the totem, bringing out its original colour as the centre's centrepiece.

That happened at VIU Cowichan, where Joe's an instructor.

His trades' students also worked on pole's thick, wooden base with instructor Matt Melgaard, plus Bill Clark and John Lore of Live Edge Designs.

The totem sits near a grove of nine interactive display structures exhibiting donated items and trumpeting a forest of Cowichan activities — arching the arts, recreation, wine, and foods to the heritage Kinsol Trestle.

The facility opened about two weeks ago, greeting off-season visitors as a prelude to the hot, summer tourist season, explained centre co-ordinator Kirsty Grant.

"We've had school groups come through from the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre," she said of the landmark forest museum across the parking lot.

That lot, and the road to and from it, will get a $700,000 revamp to deliver visitors to both places.

The new visitor centre contains some 3,000 square feet, including room for Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce offices, plus washrooms and more.

But the bulk of space holds displays lauding the Warm Land.

Sonja Nagel, the chamber's executive director, said it's early days in the newly hatched centre — resembling an offbeat-angle version of a Cowichan barn — where managers are open to community ideas about touting the valley's loft of activities, businesses and culture.

For example, there's plenty of wall space for creations from one of Canada's largest per-capita concentrations of artists.

One display now sports work by North Cowichan potter Margit Nelleman, plus a photo of pieces by south-Cowichan clay artist John Robertson.

Another display holds a Buddha board for budding artists to try.

That's beside a kayak standing on another display, telling tourists to try paddling Cowichan's oceans, lakes and rivers.

Nagel and Grant were proud of the many valley trades and businesses that helped build the infocentre.

It replaces the chamber's cramped, 800-sqaure foot headquarters beside what's now Original Joe's bistro.

Those trades included Gillingham Cabinets, Apex Landscaping, Live Edge (that made the centre's colossal counter top), and others under main contractor Kinetic Construction of Victoria.

The centre's crowning gem is a unique front door. It's handmade by Maple Bay wooden-door master Arnim Rodeck of ShamaWood Fine Woodworking.

The door is being crafted for the Doman family, in honour of Cowichan's late timber baron, Herb Doman.

The centre's winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Christmas Winter Express hours are  4 to 9 p.m. Friday to Sunday, during steam-train rides at the forest museum.

The centre's summer hours will be daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 250-748-1111.

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