Alumni Association Petitions To Keep Totem Pole

Tecumseh SS Totem Pole. (Photo from the Change.org petition).

A Chatham school’s alumni association is rallying for support to keep an iconic totem pole as part of the school’s legacy.

The Tecumseh Secondary School Alumni Reunion Committee says it was dismayed to learn that the Lambton-Kent District School Board is planning a renovation that could possibly see the totem pole removed from Tecumseh Public School on McNaughton Ave. in Chatham.

The totem pole was designed and created by four students and dedicated in 1972 when Tecumseh Public School was a high school. Last year was the 60th anniversary of the school’s opening.

Andy Ramsz, one of the four co-creators of the totem pole, says back when he was a student, there were no artifacts linking the school to Tecumseh. He says the main leader behind the project was Richard Gosnell.

“Gosnell had done some research in regards to various totem poles and asked if the four of us would be interested in actually undertaking a project that would leave a legacy at the school,” says Ramsz.

Ramsz says he found an old hydro pole laying on the ground in front of the library on Queen St. in Chatham, which later was brought to the school. The wood from the pole was sourced from a local tree that is estimated to date back to the late 19th century. He says the artists began carving the pole in 1970, drawing inspiration from many historical books and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Dan Foster, a Tecumseh Secondary School Alumni Reunion Committee member, says one of the fellow alumni members posted on social media that he had been approached about taking the totem pole if it is removed.

Foster says during a Lambton-Kent District School Board meeting on February 28, the superintendent of education indicated that in order to complete the work at the school, the board must have the totem pole removed and also decide where it will be relocated.

Superintendent of Education Gary Girardi has spoken with www.BlackburnNewsCK.com and says he cannot confirm this information and a decision has not been made at this point.

“We are having a discussion [about] that in our Transition Committee for the consolidation of John N. Given and Tecumseh Public School,” says Girardi. “There are a large number of items that we deal with in that Transition Committee and that includes all the items from both schools, and in this case, in regard to items from the past secondary school. There’s lots of conversations about what should stay and what should go.”

Foster says the alumni association’s goal is to persuade the school board and the community to keep the totem pole and have it reside at the school once renovations are complete.

“We all link together because we are the alumni association and we’re all alumni,” says Foster. “Just through word of mouth and social media, we’ve been out trying to get heard. The first thing that we wanted to do is to try to get in front of the next meeting of the Transition Committee.”

Foster says the next Transition Committee meeting is on Monday at 6:30pm at the Tecumseh Public School. Those interested in attending are asked to contact him via email at foster.dan@hotmail.com.

The alumni association has set up a petition through change.org, which currently has more than 750 signatures.

“With these renovations that are going to be taking place within the school, we still feel that the totem pole should have a place within the school environment,” says Ramsz. “[They can] use it as a teaching and learning tool for students.”