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Public Art by the Waterfront in Downtown Vancouver

Linda Crampton enjoys taking photographs and using digital editing software. She also enjoys visiting art galleries and viewing sculptures.

The digital orca sculpture beside the waterfront

The digital orca sculpture beside the waterfront

The Vancouver Waterfront

Vancouver is a large and attractive city in British Columbia. The downtown core is located on the north side of the city beside Burrard Inlet and its backdrop of the Coast Mountains. The popular area beside the inlet is known as "the waterfront". A walking and cycling path travels beside the water. A major attraction for many visitors is the public art that can be seen either beside the path or close to it.

I live near Vancouver and often walk along the waterfront. The area is always enjoyable to explore. Examining the art and design in the area is a major part of the enjoyment. All of the photos in this article were taken by me during my walks.

The Waterfront SkyTrain Station (on the left of the photo) is a good place to begin a tour of downtown Vancouver.

The Waterfront SkyTrain Station (on the left of the photo) is a good place to begin a tour of downtown Vancouver.

The Waterfront SkyTrain Station

SkyTrain is a light rapid transit system in the Greater Vancouver region. The Waterfront SkyTrain station is nearest to the sculpture and design described in this article. The station was once a grandiose Canadian Pacific Railway hotel and is architecturally interesting. The building is a great starting place to explore both the waterfront and the downtown area.

I describe art that can be seen by travelling west from the SkyTrain station (that is, by turning right when emerging from the front entrance of the building) and by travelling from the station in an easterly direction. Navigation in downtown Vancouver is easy (at least on a clear day) because the mountains on the other side of the inlet indicate where north is.

The five sails on the pier at Canada Place

The five sails on the pier at Canada Place

Canada Place

If a visitor walks to the west from the SkyTrain station, they'll soon encounter an area known as Canada Place. The term is both the name of a road and of a tourist and business area beside the road and the waterfront trail. A pier with a promenade and five large sails is a popular attraction at Canada Place. The sails are illuminated at night.

The promenade offers other points of interest for visitors. They include a free display about Canada called "The Canadian Trail" and a simulated ride over the country, which charges a fee. In summer, cruise ships to Alaska can often be seen beside the pier as they load passengers and prepare for the journey north.

This is a close-up view of the three totem poles in the Vancouver Convention Centre. The middle pole is very tall and extends to the second storey of the building.

This is a close-up view of the three totem poles in the Vancouver Convention Centre. The middle pole is very tall and extends to the second storey of the building.

Totem Poles in the Vancouver Convention Centre

An art lover has to enter a building at Canada Place in order to see three totem poles. Since admission to the building is free and the poles are seen as soon as the building is entered, I classify the carvings as public art. The indoor environment probably helps to protect the poles. They are located in the east building of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

According to the information posted next to the totem poles, the central one was created around 1900. It tells the story of the mythological ancestor of a real First Nations chief. It was brought to the convention centre in 1987 after being located at various places around the city. The two shorter poles are more recent and were carved in 1972. All three poles include stylized representations of animals that are (or were) important in the culture of a particular clan. The human figure at the top of the left pole in the photo above represents the matriarch.

The Drop Sculpture

The Drop is a very large and bright blue depiction of a raindrop. It's located on a pier to the west of Canada Place and beside the west building of the convention centre. Rain is something that we see quite a lot of in the Vancouver region. The sculpture was meant to be a homage to the power of nature but is often considered to be humorous by local residents. It was created by Inges Idee, a group of German artists, and was installed in 2009. It has a steel core and is covered by polyurethane.

The angle of the sculpture signifies the imminent landing of a powerful rain drop. Its blue colour is meant to correspond to the colour of a clear sky. It's also meant to act as a contrast to the bright yellow colour of the sulphur piles often seen on the other side of the inlet to the east. The sulphur is stored beside the inlet before it's sold and loaded into cargo ships.

The area where "The Drop" is located is known as the Bon Voyage Plaza. The plaza provides a good view of a cruise ship that's docked on the west side of the Canada Place pier. It also contains cafes and shops and connects to the waterfront trail.

"Digital Orca" by Douglas Coupland

Digital Orca was placed in the Jack Poole Plaza in 2010. The plaza is located just a short distance to the west of the Bon Voyage Plaza. The sculpture depicts an upright orca, or killer whale. The animal has a blocky appearance that mimics the pixels on a low resolution computer monitor or the blocks of a Lego sculpture. It has an interesting effect visually. Up close, the structure looks like a pile of square blocks. When viewed from further away, an orca appears. The sculpture is made of a steel frame covered by aluminum.

The orca was created by Douglas Coupland, a Canadian writer and artist. His first novel (Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture) was published in 1991 and became an international bestseller. Coupland used the term "Generation X" to refer to the generation of people born after the baby boomers. He trained as an artist and became a writer later. For a while he left art to concentrate on his writing, but now he is once again working in both disciplines.

The use of natural imagery modified by technology bridges the past to the future.

— Douglas Coupland (in reference to "Digital Orca")

The Olympic Cauldron

The Olympic Cauldron is an example of design rather than sculpture and was created by a company rather than an individual artist. I've included it in this article because it's such a popular item by the waterfront. Like the digital orca, it's located at Jack Poole Plaza. The cauldron was created for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which Vancouver hosted. It was lit continuously during the games. Since then, it has been lit only for special events. One of these events is Canada's birthday, which is celebrated on July 1st each year and is known as Canada Day.

The cauldron is 32.8 feet or 10 metres tall and is sometimes illuminated. The surface of each torch is covered with frosted glass, which is designed to look like sparkling ice. The pool in which the cauldron sits was created after the Olympics. The pool is not only attractive but also offers some protection from damage created by visitors touching the cauldron. It contains a fountain.

During the 2010 Olympics, the cauldron was fenced off and could only be seen from a distance and with some difficulty. I and many other people were disappointed at the time. I much prefer the pool solution.

Jack Poole Plaza was named after the businessman who led Vancouver's successful bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer before the games began.

Lot 19: Temporary Home of "Dance of Time 1"

Lot 19 is a park located near the intersection of West Hastings Street and Hornby Street. The park got its rather mundane name because it's located on top of parking lot 19. It's a small area that contains a walkway to the waterfront, two lawns (which were being reseeded when I took the photos below), and a variety of cultivated plants.

From June to August, buskers, special events, and extra seating can be found in the park. In summer, it becomes more than just a place to rest or a route to the waterfront. One reason that downtown Vancouver is attractive is because of the many small but lovely landscaped areas that it contains, such as this park, especially as it looks in summer.

"Dance of Time 1" by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist who lived from 1904 to 1989. He was known for his surrealist art and his eccentric personality. He seems to have liked the idea of warped clocks because they appear multiple times in his creations.

2017 was Canada's 150th Birthday. In honour of the occasion, the Salvador Dali sculpture entitled Dance of Time 1 was placed in Lot 19. The sculpture was made of bronze and had a green and gold patina. The undulating surface of the sculpture was interesting to observe. The reflective surface as well as the varying lighting conditions in the environment made the sculpture quite difficult to photograph, however.

The design of the sculpture was conceived in 1979 and first cast in 1984. A later edition of eight sculptures was produced. As can be seen in the inscription on the third photo above, Vancouver received number six of the eight editions produced by the foundry. It was loaned to the city for five months (May to September) instead of being a permanent installation The sculpture was worth $750,000.

The art gallery owner who brought Dance of Time 1 to the city said that she hoped that Vancouver would behave and that the sculpture would stay safe during its visit. Apparently everything went well because I didn't hear of any problems. Though the sculpture has now gone, another one has taken its place, so Lot 19 is still worth visiting.

The ever-present fluidity of time is represented in this sculpture as time not only moving, but dancing in rhythm to the beat of the universe.


The Angel of Victory sculpture and plaque

The Angel of Victory sculpture and plaque

"Angel of Victory" by Coeur de Lion MacCarthy

The Angel of Victory sculpture is a war memorial that is located at the eastern end of the Waterfront Station. The bronze statue was installed in 1921 in honour of the soldiers who died in the First World War, although the plaque below the statue mentions those who died in both wars. The statue shows an angel carrying a soldier to heaven after he has died. It's sometimes referred to as "Winged Victory" instead of Angel of Victory.

The sculptor was a Montreal artist named Coeur de Lion MacCarthy. He was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway to create three identical statues in memory of the company's employees who died in the war. The statues were erected at CPR sites in Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg.

In the Montreal statue, the angel's raised hand holds a wreath or crown of laurel leaves, a traditional symbol of victory in Ancient Greece. In the Vancouver version, the angel carries just a few leaves. A 1922 City of Vancouver Archives photo of the sculpture is shown on the Creators Vancouver website referenced below. The photo shows that originally the Vancouver angel carried a wreath. At some point, it broke off.

In order to see the art and design described below, people must venture further east from the SkyTrain station into an area known as Gastown. This popular tourist attraction has cobbled streets and interesting shops, cafes, and street decorations. It's close to the waterfront, but a railway and a wire fence block the passage to the water.

The Gastown steam clock in May

The Gastown steam clock in May

The Gastown Steam Clock

Like the Olympic Cauldron, the steam clock is an example of design rather than art. Also like the cauldron, it's very popular. Whenever I visit it, there is always at least one person looking at its mechanism through the window or taking a photograph. The clock was designed and built by Raymond Saunders in 1977. He's a Canadian horologist (a clock or watch maker). The top of the clock has one whistle in the centre and four smaller ones in the corners.

Although the clock uses steam in its mechanism, today it's primarily driven by an electric motor. The motor enables the clock to work more quietly and to keep better time than the former steam engine did. The steam in the clock comes from an underground system that is used to provide heat in the downtown area.

Every hour on the hour, steam emerges from the central chimney on top of the clock and produces whistles to mark the time. On every quarter hour, steam emerges from the four smaller chimneys and produces whistling sounds in the form of the Westminster Quarters.

The Whistling Clock

Gassy Jack and Gastown

The Gassy Jack sculpture is shown below. It was an interesting attraction for many visitors but not for some local residents. On February 14th in 2022, the statue was pulled down by some unidentified people. They objected to honouring Jack Deighton because of a particular incident, which I describe below.

John Deighton and Vancouver's Origin

Gassy Jack was the nickname of John (or Jack) Deighton, a real person in history. He had a reputation as a talkative man who liked to tell stories, which gave him his nickname. He was born in Hull, England, and lived from 1830 to 1875. He was originally a sailor, a career that brought him to the west coast of North America. Here he performed several jobs, including that of a steamboat pilot and a saloon owner.