The waterfront is an interesting area in downtown Vancouver. It has many attractions for tourists and residents as well as some lovely scenery. The area has a large pier with a promenade as well as an enjoyable walking and cycling trail beside the water. One of the attractions of the waterfront is the Digital Orca sculpture next to the Vancouver Convention Centre. The sculptor was Douglas Coupland, who is also a writer.
The Digital Orca Sculpture
The Digital Orca was created (or at least installed) in 2009. The sculpture is located at Jack Poole Plaza and is backed by Burrard Inlet and the Coast Mountains. When the sculpture is viewed from the correct angle, Stanley Park can be seen as well.
Jack Poole was a businessman who led the committee that successfully won Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. In real life, the orca (Orcinus orca) is also called the killer whale. It can be seen off the BC coast and occasionally in Burrard Inlet. It’s admired by many local people.
The sculpture is created in black and white blocks, which are meant to represent the pixels of a computer monitor. When a viewer is close to the orca, the blocks can clearly be seen. As a viewer moves further away, the blocks become less clearly distinguished from one another and gradually start to blend together.
The sculptor said that he wanted to create an unexpected sensation for the viewer. The sensation is greatest when we approach the sculpture from the distance. At first we think “Oh look! There’s a giant killer whale sculpture beside the water”. As we get nearer, we may be surprised to see that the whale is made of blocks carefully joined together to create the correct shape and appearance of the orca. When we’re very close to the sculpture, it looks like a meaningless jumble of blocks. As we move away, a pattern emerges.
Douglas Coupland lives in Vancouver and grew up in the area. He has been involved in many creative projects. His first novel was published in 1991 and is entitled Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Though the term generation X had been used before Coupland’s novel, he gave it its modern meaning.
Generation X is the demographic group born between the birth dates of the baby boomers and the millennials, or between the early or mid 1960s and the early 1980s. There’s a lot a debate about which people should be included in the generation X category, however.
Coupland trained as an artist but has become a prolific writer. He’s written short stories, plays, screenplays, and nonfiction as well as novels. He is also a newspaper columnist. Coupland is an Officer of the Order of Canada as well as a member of the Order of British Columbia. In 2017, he received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in British Columbia.
Vortex at the Vancouver Aquarium
Today Douglas Copeland mixes writing with art and design. The Vancouver Aquarium recently displayed a year-long exhibition designed by Coupland. The exhibition was called “Vortex”. Its theme was plastic pollution in the ocean. As the aquarium said, it involved an “imaginative journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. The exhibition provided an important message to visitors as well as entertainment.
Getting to the Aquarium From the Sculpture
The Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park, which is not far from the killer whale sculpture and the downtown core of Vancouver. For healthy people with normal mobility, it’s perfectly feasible to walk from the downtown area to the park. The journey takes between twenty and forty minutes, depending on walking speed and the starting location in the downtown area. The visitor can travel along sidewalks or take a waterfront path called the Seaside Greenway. This path can be accessed near the Digital Orca sculpture. Buses and taxis go the park as well. It’s also possible to cycle to the park along the bike lanes of quieter roads or along the greenway.
The Aquarium and Stanley Park
Stanley Park is large (400 hectares) and is located by the water. It’s a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s worth visiting before or after an aquarium visit, though exploring the entire park would take a long time.
The aquarium is a popular place. It has been somewhat controversial in the past due to the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, including orcas. This situation has changed, however. Currently, the only cetacean that remains is one Pacific white-sided dolphin. Helen has partially amputated pectoral fins and can’t be released into the wild because she would have difficulty surviving. The injury happened before she was brought to the aquarium. I’ve written an article about Pacific white-sided dolphins and Helen’s story, which provides more information.
Outside the aquarium is another orca sculpture, though it was created by a different sculptor. The bronze orca was created by Bill Reid and depicts a killer whale as it might be seen in the traditional stories of the Haida people.
Skana – the killer whale known by the Haida to be chief of the world beneath the sea who from his great house raised the storms of winter and brought calm to the seas of summer. (Quote from the plaque by the Chief of the Undersea World sculpture)
Visiting the Waterfront
The waterfront is always a great place to visit. It’s quick to reach from the downtown area. Walking towards the mountains from the centre of the downtown area will take you there. Turning right from the front entrance of the Waterfront Station will also enable you to reach the digital orca and other attractions. The station is serviced by buses, SkyTrain (a light rapid transit system), SeaBus (which crosses Burrard Inlet), and a train known as the West Coast Express.
In addition to the attractions that are always present by the waterfront, special ones are present at certain times of year, such as on Canada Day (July 1st) and at Christmas time. In summer, cruise ships that will take travellers to Alaska can be seen. I visit the waterfront quite often and nearly always take a look at the Digital Orca when I’m in the area.
- Douglas Coupland biography from The Canadian Encyclopedia
- 2014 Recipient Order of British Columbia
- Douglas Coupland wins Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence from BC BookLook