Totem pole from submarine HMS Totem

Totem pole from HMS Totem

There was a legend that if the submarine went to sea without the totem pole, disaster would ensue.

A totem pole was presented to HMS Totem by the North American Cowichan tribe in 1945 when in her first commission. The presentation was made by the Imperial Daughters of the Empire (Junior Branch) of Victoria, British Columbia. It was always carried onboard and fixed to the fin of the submarine when coming into harbour.

The figures represented (in the original) are the thunderbird, grizzly bear, the killer whale and the fire god.

Sometime in the 1950s whilst on a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia, this totem pole disappeared from the fin of the submarine whilst alongside in HMC Dockyard. There was a legend that if the submarine went to sea without the totem pole, disaster would ensue. The ship's company refused to sail until it was returned. HMC Dockyard therefore carved a new one before she sailed.

HMS Totem was transferred to the Israeli Navy and commissioned I.S. Dakar in 1967. The pole was removed and left behind in the UK.

While on passage to Israel in February 1968 I.S. Dakar was lost without trace in the Eastern Mediterranean. The wreck was not discovered until 1999. The cause of her loss is unknown.

Quick Facts

  • Totem pole made by HMC Dockyard, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Made of North American pine
  • Made in the 1950s
  • Dimensions Height 150cm, Width (at wings) 92cm
  • Original totem pole made on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
  • Original totem pole made by the Cowichan tribe


  • Between 1951 and May 1953, with the Royal Navy in Cold War confrontation with the Soviet submarine fleet, Totem was one of eight submarines that underwent 'Super T Conversions', which both stream-lined the vessels and inserted new 14ft sections into their hulls, making them quieter, faster and more formidable.

Did you know?

Submariners often carried personal mascots onboard, including ones that they had made themselves. Submariners are known for their superstitious nature and mascots were seen as an important means of maintaining one's luck whilst beneath the seas.


AB Donaghey holding the Totem Pole
Submarine HMS Totem

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