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Public Art Near the Waterfront in Downtown Vancouver

Updated on May 11, 2017
AliciaC profile image

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 | Source

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 trail travels beside the water. A major attraction for many visitors is the public art that can be seen either beside the trail or very near to it.

I live near Vancouver and often explore the waterfront. A new art installation prompted me to make a recent visit. 2017 is Canada's 150th Birthday. In honour of the occasion, the Salvador Dali sculpture entitled Dance of Time 1 has been placed in a small park near the waterfront. It's worth making a short diversion from the trail to see the sculpture. This article shows the Dali sculpture as well as nearby art that I enjoy observing. All of the photos in this article were taken by me during my explorations.

In the map above, the water to the south of the city of North Vancouver and to the east of Stanley Park is known as Burrard Inlet. The trail beside the inlet is an interesting place to explore.

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 building was once a grandiose Canadian Pacific Railway hotel. It's 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 and by travelling from the station in an easterly direction. Navigation in Vancouver is easy because the mountains 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 a view of five large sails is a popular attraction at Canada Place. The sails are illuminated at night. In summer, cruise ships to Alaska can often be seen beside the pier as they load passengers and prepare for the journey ahead.

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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.
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.

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Another view of the totem polesA close-up viewA stylized design
Another view of the totem poles
Another view of the totem poles
A close-up view
A close-up view
A stylized design
A stylized design

The Drop Sculpture

The Drop is a very large and bright blue depiction of a raindrop that is located on a pier to the west of Canada Place. 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 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 one of the cruise ships when it's docked at Canada Place. It also contains cafes and shops and connects to the waterfront trail.

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The DropThe Canada Place pier and a cruise ship viewed from The Drop
The Drop
The Drop
The Canada Place pier and a cruise ship viewed from The Drop
The Canada Place pier and a cruise ship viewed from The Drop

Digital Orca and Douglas Coupland

The Digital Orca sculpture 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.

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From close up, it's hard to tell what the blocks in the digital orca represent.At a distance, an orca or killer whale is revealed.
From close up, it's hard to tell what the blocks in the digital orca represent.
From close up, it's hard to tell what the blocks in the digital orca represent.
At a distance, an orca or killer whale is revealed.
At a distance, an orca or killer whale is revealed.

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, but 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, however, it's 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 offers some protection from damage created by visitors touching the cauldron. 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.

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The Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole PlazaA view from a different side of the cauldronThe cauldron is lit for Canada Day.
The Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza
The Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza
A view from a different side of the cauldron
A view from a different side of the cauldron
The cauldron is lit for Canada Day.
The cauldron is lit for Canada Day.

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: The Temporary Home of Dance of Time 1

Lot 19 is 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.

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Dance of Time 1 in Lot 19The front of the sculptureThe inscription
Dance of Time 1 in Lot 19
Dance of Time 1 in Lot 19
The front of the sculpture
The front of the sculpture
The inscription
The inscription

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.

The Dance of Time 1 sculpture is made of bronze and has a green and gold patina. The undulating surface of the sculpture is interesting to observe. The reflective surface as well as the varying lighting conditions in the environment make the sculpture quite difficult to photograph, however.

The design for the Dance of Time 1 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 has received number six of the eight editions produced by the foundry. It's on loan instead of being a permanent installation and will be on display for five months (May to September). The sculpture is worth $750,000. The art gallery owner who brought Dance of Time 1 to the city has said that she hopes that Vancouver will behave and that the sculpture will stay safe.

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.

— thedaliuniverse.com
The Angel of Victory sculpture and plaque
The Angel of Victory sculpture and plaque

Angel of Victory

The Angel of Victory statue 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 I notice that 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 must have broken off.

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A different view of the sculpture which shows the angel's raised handThe plaque below the sculpture
A different view of the sculpture which shows the angel's raised hand
A different view of the sculpture which shows the angel's raised hand
The plaque below the sculpture
The plaque below the sculpture

In order to see the art and design described below, people must venture further east from the 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 steam that powers the clock comes from an underground system that is used to provide heat in the downtown area. The steam drives a piston which in turn drives the rest of the mechanism inside the clock. Every hour on the hour, steam emerges from the central chimney on top of the clock and produces a whistle. On every quarter hour, steam emerges from the four smaller chimneys and also produces whistling sounds.

The Whistling Clock

Gassy Jack and Gastown

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, Engand, 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.

Deighton came to British Columbia during the Fraser River Gold Rush but never became rich. He played an important role in the creation of Vancouver, which began in the area known as Gastown. Deighton quickly built a new saloon after his arrival in the area with the aid of some nearby mill workers. The saloon and Deighton's personality stimulated a community to develop around the building.

The official name of the new settlement beside the inlet was Granville, after Earl Granville, the colonial secretary. Its colloquial name was Gastown after Gassy Jack. The name was eventually changed to Vancouver. Other settlements nearby gradually became incorporated into the city.

The Gassy Jack sculpture in Gastown
The Gassy Jack sculpture in Gastown

Public Art at the Waterfront Poll

Which sculpture or designed item described in this article is your favourite?

See results

An Interesting City

I enjoy looking at urban parks, landscaped areas, architecture, and art when I explore a city. Vancouver has some great examples of all of these, which is why I like to visit the city. Walking through a specific area with a camera is a fun and often educational pursuit. The waterfront is one area that has a lot to offer a visitor, including some interesting art.

References

© 2017 Linda Crampton

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

      I enjoyed this lovely look at The waterfront area. There are so many places I may not have the chance to visit but having this sneak peek makes me want to be one of those tourists who stop by Vancouver on their way to Alaska.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Flourish. Thanks for the comment. There are so many places that I'd like to visit, including Alaska. A cruise would be lovely.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 2 weeks ago from Europe

      Hi Alicia, original article. What amazes me is that the city streets are so neat and clean. I like the Totem poles and the Gastown Steam Clock! Wish you a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      So important, funding for the Arts. We have "Arts Walk" here twice each year, and it is a huge event. Thanks for the tour of your waterfront.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Buildreps. I hope you have a great weekend, too!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      An Arts Walk sounds like a great idea, Bill. Thank you for the visit and comment.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 2 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Really neat pictures! I would love to visit this area sometime. Thank you for sharing!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Larry. I hope you're able to visit Vancouver one day.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful display!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Larry. The art is fun to explore.

    • Sissi Ravano profile image

      Theskha 2 weeks ago from The Beautiful Ligurian Sea, Arm Of The Mediterranean Sea

      Beautiful article, I was just traveling to Vancouver with paying a flight ticket. Thank you Linda

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 2 weeks ago from South Africa

      I enjoyed the virtual visit to the Waterfront in Downtown Vancouver. My favorite sculpture is The Olympic Cauldron. When will I ever get the opportunity to visit this awesome sight in person?

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Theskha. It's nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy your visit to Vancouver.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I hope you do get a chance to visit Vancouver, Martie. I'd love to visit parts of South Africa!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      I have got to get to Vancouver one day! I've seen so many beautiful photos and stories from both you and some friends I have in that area. Those photos in this hub are amazing! Thank you for sharing your lovely town with us!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I appreciate your comment very much, Heidi. I hope you get a chance to visit Vancouver, too!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 weeks ago from london

      God has given you a loving and romantic, as well as academic spirit. You use it well. Hari Om! (Praise be!)

      I love all your pics, but I believe that the Totem Pole is associated with Peace, friendship, reconciliation, healing... is that so?

      We have those cute clocks in some villages here and there is a Clock Tower in Harlesden. Not quite Big Ben, but charming in design. We also have a Canada Waters and it is a developing site where tourists visit as well.

      A great and interesting read, Alicia.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the comment, Manatita. Totem poles can have a variety of meanings, but the ones created by the people in my area generally depict the beliefs, legends, or history of a particular culture.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 weeks ago from london

      Excellent. I was just trying to remember. Cheers.-Lantern

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Cheers to you, too!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 13 days ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for showing us all of these pieces of art in your beautiful Vancouver. The only one featured here that we got to see many years ago was the steam clock in Gastown.

      If you had offered many or all of the above in your poll that is what I would have checked. I could not decide upon just one. Vancouver is such a beautiful city and the art enhances it.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 13 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit, Peggy. Thank you for the interesting comment about the art and the poll, too. I agree with you—the art does enhance Vancouver's beauty!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 13 days ago from The Caribbean

      There are certainly some interesting sculptures on the waterfront. I voted for my favorite, but think I would spend most of the time looking away from them onto the beach itself and the rising hills in the distance. I would like to be there.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 13 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dora. Thanks for voting in the poll. The beaches and mountains are certainly enticing. I can understand why you'd like to be there.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 11 days ago from Dubai

      The waterfront is amazing and the artwork is brilliant. I love the unique representation of the Dance of Time. Enjoyed reading and loved the great photos.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 11 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Vellur. The waterfront is a great place to take photos.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 10 days ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Linda,

      This is a very good hub for people like me who will be in Vancouver one day exploring its every nook and cranny. It was a nice write-up and pictures made the real difference. I especially liked the article because it was focused on one aspect - sculptures. I will surely not miss them for photography.

      Regards,

      Suhail and my dog K2

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 10 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Suhail. I hope you enjoy exploring and photographing Vancouver. It's an interesting city.

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