Victory Through Honour pole
September 10, 2019
2 mins read

Victory Through Honour pole

Indigenous Art Series

Outside of Brock Hall stands the Victory Through Honour pole, a significant gift connected to the Thunderbird name.

On January 31, 1934, the University’s varsity sports teams became known as the UBC Thunderbirds. A high-ranking, mythical, powerful creature, the Thunderbird is indigenous to the West Coast and under whose protection comes brotherhood, peace, and goodwill.

Almost 15 years later in 1948, the Kwicksutaineuk people of the B.C. West Coast would officially grant permission to UBC to use the Thunderbird name and emblem.

At the homecoming football game at old Varsity Stadium, over 5,000 fans and students were witnesses to a ceremony in which well-known carver Ellen Neel, and her husband Ed, Chief William Scow and his son, Alfred, presented the university with a 16-foot high Thunderbird totem.

Under tribal laws and customs, the dedication by Neel and Chief Scow gave the university and its varsity teams permission to use the Thunderbird name and symbol legally for the first time, unique honours for any institution or team.

In making this presentation, the delegation was technically breaking the law, which at the time forbade Indigenous peoples from participating in potlatches (or gift-giving ceremonies) and other traditional practices, such as wearing ceremonial clothing. And by appearing as a group of three, they were violating the restrictions on the assembly of three or more Indigenous persons for political purposes that had been in place for more than 50 years. 

Victory Through Honour pole outside Brock Hall

The pole, named Victory Through Honour, was one of the first expressions of Indigenous presence on the Vancouver campus. As such, it also served as an important point of connection for the small number of Indigenous students on campus and those who followed. Neel wanted the pole to acknowledge and empower Indigenous populations and make visible UBC’s commitment that they would be accepted.

The pole, which was gifted to the Alma Mater Society, stood in front of Brock Hall until the 1970s. It was then moved to the north side of the Student Union Building until it was severely vandalized in 2000. Through persistence, passion, and partnership over 3 years, UBC was able to create an exact replica of the pole, this time carved by Calvin Hunt and Merv Child of Alert Bay.

On October 18, 2004, at a rededication ceremony held with the blessing of the Musqueam people, the pole was returned to its rightful place outside of Brock Hall.

Chief Scow, at the 1948 permission-granting ceremony, stated, “It is yours now, and if you follow the precepts accepted with it, you cannot fail.”

To learn more about the Victory Through Honour pole, visit:

Credit: UBC Athletics & First Nations Drum

Indigenous Art Series: Find out where you can view Indigenous art on campus and the story behind each piece by checking out this interactive map.