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DO YOU REMEMBER: The reason for Berkhamsted’s canal totem pole?

 Published on: 1st September 2023   |   By: Annabel Stock   |   Category: Uncategorized

If you have ever walked along the Grand Union Canal, adjacent to Castle Street bridge, you may have asked yourself how a genuine totem pole ended up in Berkhamsted.

It was commissioned in 1968 by John Alsford, a director of timber merchants and importers J Alsford Ltd, which was originally located on the site where the pole stands.

John’s younger brother, Roger, left the family firm to seek his fortune in Canada, working in the Tahsis lumber mill on Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, he fell on hard times, and was rescued from starvation by the people of a Kwakiutl First Nations village.

John made the voyage to Canada to bring Roger home. He was welcomed by the Kwakiutl people and agreed to commission a totem pole from their artist-in-residence, Henry Hunt.

The red cedar pole stands imposingly at nine metres tall and is one of just a few totem poles in the UK. The carving is a fertility symbol, and legend has it that women wishing to conceive should visit and make three wishes for their future child.

Do you have any historical photos of artwork in Berkhamsted? Please send them to us via email at and they could feature in the future!

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