Public Art Registry
Gate to the Northwest Passage
Photo: Sylvia Grace Borda
Gate to the Northwest Passage - photo by Sylvia Grace Borda
1100 Chestnut Street
Vanier Park
N.E. of Centennial Museum, along waterfront
1980
Corten steel
Sculpture
In place
City of Vancouver
Description of work
The large steel sculpture is set on a 26' x 28' plaza of paving stones. The sculpture consists of a 15' square of corten steel. Each side of the square is 15' long by 3' high by 3' wide. The bottom side appears to be cut apart in the middle and the two parts wrenched apart to form a gate or arch. The corten steel is designed so that the surface rust forms a protective coating. There was some adverse reaction from Kits Point residents when the work was installed. Michael Duncan, Chief Curator of the Maritime Museum at the time, called it "a bloody monstrosity." An article in the Globe and Mail teased that it could be "the world's largest paper clip." The article (Mar3, 1981) also quoted from a city planning study which read: "Vancouver's peerless natural setting is a permanent gift from nature. So massive and close are the North Shore mountains that no amount of human folly can ever obliterate them." But the controversy soon abated and the piece has weathered time and opinion. It was vandalized on July 4th, 1988, when a field of white dots were painted on its surfaces -probably as an art "intervention". The dots were soon removed. Since then, the "Gate to the Northwest Passage" has become a familiar landmark, an important place marker which stands guard at the entrance to False Creek. The area around the site is a favorite for kite flyers.
Artist statement
The parameters for the juried competition operated by Parks Canada were to create "a monument in Vanier Park to commemorate Captain George Vancouver," the first European to sail into Burrard Inlet, in 1792. The competition guidelines (1979) specified a sculpture made of permanent materials, "not wood," and that it should not be in the likeness of a man. The form of the work takes off from two 18th century navigational instruments: the plane table and David's quadrant. Chung Hung said that, "The objective of the sculpture is to create a symbolic image with definite visual expression, awakening an awareness in Captain George Vancouver's contribution to the world, his remarkable and meticulous surveys which included the north Pacific coast." The piece frames English Bay from the north view and the Centennial Museum from the south view. The opportunity for a sculpture was offered to the city by Hugh Faulkner, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs at the time. The project was recommended by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. A five-member jury headed by former parks superintendent Stuart Lefeaux selected Chung Hung's proposal from a local competition and the Parks Board approved the choice. Gordon Smith, a member of the selection panel, said that "If people think Hung's sculpture is a poor catch, they should have seen the ones that got away." It was originally to be sited at Ferguson Point in Stanley Park.
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