Totem poles have long been used to tell the stories and cultural significance of the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.
Collinsville may be far removed from those cultures but to many, a long-standing totem pole on River Street was an integral part of the lore of the late William H. (Bill) Wilson Jr., longtime owner of the Fireplace Café who died in October of 2010.
Right now the totem is absent from its base, but come this fall the plan is to make it a centerpiece at Wilson’s Pub, the restaurant and bar the new owners of River Street plan for the building’s lower level.
Edward Roberge, owner of Stonehouse Construction, L.L.C., general contractor for the restoration of the bar and the entire building, is also restoring the totem pole at an undisclosed location.
Roberge spent every day for about three weeks just preparing the piece — removing mold, filling cracks, sanding and priming the wood.
At the same time, he also put time into researching the animals on the pole and the colors used on the pieces.
“Whenever I get into a project I always do the history,” Roberge said.
It would be hard to replicate the exact colors of the original since it was so faded, he said.
“I’m coloring it from scratch,’ he said.
Barry Wilson said he went with his brother to pick up the pole in Maine more than 20 years ago.
“He was a man of impulse,” Barry Wilson said. “He called and we went and picked it up.”
According to some longtime Fireplace patrons, Bill discovered the totem pole carver while on a fishing trip.
Roberge said he doesn’t know who made it but said the work was exemplary and likely done from pine.
“They did a nice job,” Roberge sad. “It’s out of one piece of solid wood.”
The pole represents a thunderbird and includes individual carvings of an eagle, fish, blue heron and bullfrog, Roberge said.
Barry Wilson said he is pleased the new owners are honoring his brother with the name and the totem.
“We’re very happy it’s going to be restored and incorporated into the new facility,” he said.