August 6, 2019


The Ellen Neel Trophy was won in a mile race on the Squamish Nation in 1957 on a grass parkland in North Vancouver by Dr Doug Clement of the Achilles Track and Field Society. This will be displayed at the Rainforest Trail Run as part of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum contribution to the inaugural event honouring the Indigenous cultures. The trophy was presented by Ellen and Ted Neel and carved by their son, David A. Neel

Ellen Neel Trophy

Ellen Neel (1916-1966) is known as one of the first famous female Northwest Coast artists. Her Kwakwaka'wakw name was Kakaso'las, which translates to "People Who Come to Seek Her Advice." Ellen was born to Charles Newman and Lucy Lilac James in Alert Bay, BC. She was also the niece of celebrated Kwakwaka'wakw totem pole carver Mungo Martin. Ellen started training under her grandfather, Charlie James, at an early age, and was selling small totem poles to tourists by the age of 12. She quit school at the age of 18, and at 21, she met her husband, Edward (Ted) Neel. In 1943, Ellen moved to Vancouver with her six children. Ted suffered his first stroke in 1946, which eventually led Ellen to carve full-time with Ted helping administer the business. She began training her children to carve, and during the summer months, the family had a stand in Stanley Park. The family worked together to survive in the big city until Ellen completed the Totemland Pole for the Totemland Society, a promotional group for Vancouver, which served as a financial breakthrough. This development also resulted in Ellen establishing her trademark Totemland Pole design: a Thunderbird with a round, green-and-blue globe, and a kneeling human figure. As a speaker at the Conference on Native Indian Affairs in 1948, Ellen furthered her career and became an established artist.

VICTORY THROUGH HONOUR TOTEM POLE at the University of British Columbia

Ellen was commissioned to create a 16-foot pole for UBC. Raised and dedicated Saturday October 30, 1948 by Ellen and Edward Neel with these words over 70 years ago of what the future might hold.

“To the native people of the whole province we can give you our assurance that your children will be accepted at this university by the staff and student council, eager to smooth their paths and understanding. We need now, only students to take advantage of the opportunity so that some day our doctors, lawyers, social workers and departmental workers will be fully trained university graduates of our own race”  Ellen Neel 1948

In 1955, Woodward’s Department Store commissioned a large pole, and this pole now stands in Stanley Park’s Prospect Point. Ellen's legacy very much lives on British Columbia, and her poles can be found throughout the Lower Mainland. Her grandson, David A. Neel, is a carver, jeweller, painter, photographer, and author working in North Vancouver.

In 2017 University of Victoria presented an exhibition on “Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver”. This showing honoured the first woman carver of monumental totem poles. The event acknowledges Neel’s influential role as a professional artist. “Our art continues to live, for not only is it part and parcel of us, but can be a powerful factor in combining the best part of our culture with the fabric of a truly Canadian art form.” -  Ellen Neel

The Neel Family in 2017 at the Legacy Art Gallery in Victoria


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