The Olympic Cauldron and the Five Sails at Canada Place

The waterfront in downtown Vancouver has many attractions for tourists, business people, and other visitors. Two of these are the giant Olympic Cauldron and the five huge sails at Canada Place. I’m always tempted to photograph these attractions when I visit the area, even though I already have many photos of them. The weather, lighting, viewing angle, and surrounding activity make each photo different. In the case of the cauldron, the lit or unlit state and the appearance of the flames also make a difference.


The Olympic Cauldron against a backdrop of downtown Vancouver

The Olympic Cauldron

The cauldron was created for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s located in Jack Poole Plaza next to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Jack Poole was a local business man who led Vancouver’s successful bid for the Olympic Games. Sadly, he died of cancer not long before the games began. Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains form an attractive backdrop for the cauldron. When viewing it from the opposite position, downtown Vancouver can be seen.

The cauldron is 10 metres high, 12 metres wide, and weighs approximately 33,600 kilograms. It consists of four arms crossing over each other at different angles. The arms  are made of steel, polycarbonate, and furnace glass. Parabolic mirrors are located below their outer covering, which produces a crystalline effect. The designers wanted to create a “fire on ice” appearance to match the theme of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The arms of the cauldron are illuminated at night. Each arm is attached to a separate base. The bases are surrounded by water containing a fountain today. 



The cauldron is lit on Canada Day.

The Flame of the Cauldron

The low barrier at the base of the cauldron is a popular place for people to sit. During the Olympics, getting close to the cauldron wasn’t possible. I went downtown during the event in the hope of seeing the flame, but I and the other hopeful viewers were blocked by a fence and could only catch glimpses of the lit cauldron.

Since the 2010 Olympics, the cauldron is lit only for special events. One of these is Canada’s birthday on July 1st, which was when I took the photo above. The heat can be felt by visitors viewing the cauldron, which is quite pleasant on a cool day.


The five sails and the pier at Canada Place

The Five Sails

The ninety-foot high sails are located on a pier at Canada Place. The pier is located not far from the cauldron. It’s a major construction that contains many buildings and attractions as well as a multi-level promenade for walkers and a berth for cruise ships going to Alaska. The sails are so big that they can be seen from a wide area and are featured on many photos promoting Vancouver. On the promenade, it’s possible to get close to them, as I did when taking the photo below.

The sails are lit in multiple colours from dusk to dawn, which creates an attractive scene. The colours match the seasons and are sometimes animated. Non-profit organizations can request a colour display to match their cause.


The sails and the promenade on the pier

History of the Sails

The area around the pier at Canada Place has long been a place where boats dock. The area is known as the Port of Vancouver. The ocean and maritime vessels have been an important part of Vancouver’s history and still are today. The sails are meant to pay homage to the past. They were placed on the pier in 1986 and were originally made of Teflon-coated fabric. In 2010 and 2011, the fabric was replaced by Teflon-coated fibreglass, which is stronger and resists potentially harmful environmental conditions better.

It’s nice to know that the original sail fabric wasn’t completely discarded. Some of it was used to build a roof over an outdoor area at a school in Tanzania. The area is used as a classroom and as a sheltered meeting place for the local village.

The Vancouver Waterfront

I think the waterfront is a great place for anyone visiting Vancouver to explore. It’s a popular site for nearby residents to visit as well. A walking path along the waterfront can be accessed at Canada Place. It enables walkers and cyclists to see some interesting sights and takes them to Stanley Park, a major tourist attraction in its own right. A camera is a very useful device to accompany a walk or a bike ride in the area.


Olympic cauldron facts from the creators

History of the five sails from the Canada Place website

Douglas Coupland and the Digital Orca Sculpture in Vancouver

The waterfront is an interesting area in downtown Vancouver. It has many attractions and some lovely scenery. The area includes major constructions for business people and tourists as well as an enjoyable walking 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.

A view of the Digital Orca and its surroundings
Photo by Linda Crampton

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. 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

Douglas Coupland lives in Vancouver and grew up in the area. He’s a writer as well as a sculptor and has been involved in many other 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.

An Exhibition Designed by Coupland at the Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium currently has an exhibition designed by Douglas Coupland on display. It’s called “Vortex” and is about plastic pollution in the ocean. According to the aquarium, the exhibition involves an “imaginative journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It’s on display until May, 2019. I haven’t seen the exhibition yet, but I plan to.

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. Buses and taxis go the park as well. It’s also possible to cycle to the park along quieter roads.

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.

Visiting the Waterfront

The waterfront is always a great place to visit. It’s quick to reach from the downtown area. In addition to the attractions that are always present, special ones are present at certain times of year, such as on Canada Day (July 1st) and at Christmas time. I visit the waterfront quite often and nearly always take a look at the Digital Orca when I’m in the area.