The Sculptures of Devonian Harbour Park
Story & Photos by Dianne Maguire
(Click on images to enlarge)
The Devonian Harbour Park is a strip of land at the west end of Coal Harbour that runs parallel to the Georgia Causeway, from the gravel path to the 1887 heritage building that is still the Vancouver Rowing Club to Denman Street. This land served many purposes before it became a favorite place for dog owners to let their pets run off-leash. The name “Devonian” is relatively new, even the designation of “Park” is recent. The Squamish and Tsleil-wauthuth First Nations first inhabited this area.
The first settlers in the 1860s from Hawai’i called the area Kanaka Ranch. They grew fruit trees and vegetables, fished and produced charcoal. The large old catalpa tree, blown down by the strong storm winds of December 2006, was kept as a landmark and place for children to climb.
The child-like theme continues if you follow the walkway that parallels the causeway towards Denman Street. Just a short distance away from the north side of the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park, there is a 5-metre-tall playful sculpture on the right, titled, Acrodynamic Forms in Space, by local artist and musician Rodney Graham. It features colourful shapes and planes, yet it has the appearance of a mangled glider. Graham, an SFU grad, has exhibited his work internationally, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2016 for his contribution to Canada’s contemporary visual arts.
In 1911, Frank Patrick sold his lumber business and built an arena for the Pacific Coast Hockey Assoc. on the plot of land at Denman Street. The arena became the home of the Vancouver Millionaires professional hockey team. It was the location of four Stanley Cup championships, for many musical performances, and the assembly place for servicemen for WWI in 1914. It was also the first rink to have mechanically frozen ice in Canada, and the second largest arena in North America, second only to Madison Square Garden.
The family built the Denman Auditorium next door to accommodate entertainment and indoor sports, like boxing, and wrestling. In Oct. 1924, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King made the first political radio broadcast from the auditorium. Later called the Georgia Auditorium, it was demolished in 1959 when audiences were flocking to the new Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In WWII, the auditorium was used by the Canadian Navy, and Boeing Aircraft used it for storage until 1945. Later, Boeing manufactured amphibious aircraft here.
Carefully placed among the trees just south off the path toward Denman Street is a fitting tribute to the aviation history of the site. Solo is an abstract vision of a craft in steel and carved cedar planks that fan out like wings in a spiral that shows movement rather than flight. This engaging work, installed in 1986, was created by Natalie McHafflie of Toronto, who is a licenced pilot known for her hobby of flying stunt planes, and for her children’s book, C-Growl: The Daring Little Airplane.
As you approach the bus stop on the northwest corner of Georgia and Denman, there is a charming old lady sitting on a park bench. In spring and summer, passersby put fresh flowers in the bag she appears to be studying. This realistic sculpture by American sculptor, J. Seward Johnson, Jr. (the grandson of the founder of Johnson & Johnson), is an example of his life-like bronze statues which are made from castings of actual people depicted in everyday activities. In Vancouver, he is perhaps best known for the Three People Being Photographed, which includes a fourth figure – the photographer – found outside the MacMillan Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park.
How did the park finally get the name Devonian? A donation from the Devonian Foundation of Alberta was used to purchase the land in 1984; hence, the name.