The “Pacific Passage” at the Vancouver International Airport

It was a long ten-hour trip by air from Liberia, Costa Rica to Houston, Texas, through US customs, and then on to Vancouver. Finally, we arrived, in the dark, at the most distant gate of the YVR US terminal. Needless to say, we were all eager to stretch our legs, get through the customs formalities, pick up our luggage, and get on our way.

But… not so fast. Between the gate and the customs hall is one of the most striking art installations in all the Vancouver International Airport. It took my breath away, so much so that I stopped to take it in more closely. I shall never forget it. And may even arrange to return by air from the USA to YVR someday, just to see it again.

Called Pacific Passage, the installation is intended as a “thematic or experiential corridor.” Its designers, AldrichPears Associates and the indigenous artists who worked with them, conceived the exhibit “to evoke the natural environment and indigenous culture of the B.C. west coast.” And so it does.

Arriving passengers pass beside a stretch of water, with pebbles under water and rocks around, green trees and dead logs, and an observation deck to allow a closer look. Suspended above the logs at the surface of the water is a carved indigenous canoe with the oars aloft. Overhead is an elaborate, brightly coloured, intricately designed, red cedar carving of an eagle. Or perhaps a raven. Other contemporary carvings of frogs, birds, totems, and masks, are scattered about. In greens and blues, browns and greys, contrasting with the bright red, yellow and black of the aboriginal art, it is an incredible welcome to the best of what the west coast has to offer.

The AldrichPears Flickr slideshow shows highlights of the corridor, together with some exhibit designs. It is worth your time to check it out (and, if necessary, to install Adobe Flash Player from their site onto your computer, so you can see the photos).

The Vancouver International Airport (YVR to locals and to others who love the airport) has the largest collection of Northwest Coast Native art in the world. Bill Reid’s bronze cast of The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe (1994), in the rotunda of the International Departures level, is the second and last casting of the original Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Black Canoe (1991) at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. It is the most important of a fantastically rich collection throughout the airport and on its grounds outside.

Earlier this month, visitors were able to see new cedar carvings by Haida artist, Reg Davidson, in the Link Building Atrium, between the international and domestic terminals. The carvings include a 24-foot totem pole entitled Raven Stealing the Beaver Lake.

The Art and Architecture section of the YVR webpage includes further information about the collection, and several self-guided tours of the airport. In the old days, our family used to go to the airport from time to time just to watch the airplanes. Now there is art to see as well. Whether as a destination in itself, or to while away time between flights, the art at YVR is worth your attention.

With the encouragement of Bill Reid, the Vancouver Airport Authority in 1993 established the YVR Art Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization to encourage the training and development of B.C. First Nations art and artists. The Foundation grants scholarships and awards to First Nations artists, and provides recipients an opportunity to show their work at the airport. In 2015, the Foundation extended its programs to include Yukon First Nations artists. If part of our YVR Airport Improvement Tax is being used to support such art, it’s a good use of our money.

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