Norris Sculpture a Viaduct Memory

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Vancouver Sculptor, George Norris, poses with a model of the liquid-filled glass prism – along with a model of the little park at the western end of the Georgia Viaduct – while pointing to where in the park the prism would be located. Vancouver Sun. Oct 20, 1971. Dan Scott photo.

George Norris (1928-2013) was a Vancouver artist whose sculptures adorn many city spaces. Doubtless the best known is his award-winning Crab at the entry to the Museum of Vancouver. Another one is Mother and Child at UBC near the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

But there is a small subset of Norris’ public art works which have been removed.¹ One of these works is the liquid-filled glass prism which formerly was on the NE corner of Georgia and Beatty Street – at the western end of the current Georgia Viaduct (1972-present). The sculpture and the park in which it would sit were designed to be memorials to the former Georgia Viaduct (1915-72) which for clarity I’ll refer to by its original name, the McHarg Viaduct.

Given that the current Georgia/Dunsmuir viaducts are today marked for demolition, it is interesting to think about why the park was created and the Norris sculpture was commissioned. My suspicion is that this may have been a sop from Mayor Tom “Terrific” Campbell and the Council that was dominated by his fellow-Non-Partisan Association partisans. This may have been intended to mute the outcry of so-called ‘anti-development’ forces who had raised such a stink over the

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Looking east on the current Georgia Viaduct sometime after 1971. Source unknown. Photographer unknown. n.d.

replacement of the McHarg Viaduct with the Georgia/Dunsmuir viaducts at the expense of Hogan’s Alley and a number of homes and businesses in the Main Street and Prior Street area. Council spent $13,000 on Norris’ work.

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CVA 772-123: Looking north up Beatty at Georgia. Between 1980-97. The Norris sculpture is visible to the south of the Armoury. The former Greyhound and Pacific Coach Lines long-distance bus depot is visible on the west side of Beatty (on the future site of the Vancouver Art Gallery). This is a crop of the original CVA image.

According to an earlier version of an online article written about Norris and his work, the sculpture was removed in 1987. (This date seems too early. I moved to Vancouver in 1991, and I recall seeing the prism at its location in the park after I arrived; the current version of the article has crossed out that year as well as its original assertion that the prism was in storage at the Surrey Works Yard – I have no current information on where the Norris prism is). Note: See comment below from JMV of Illustrated Vancouver for more on the date the sculpture is thought to have been removed.

The reason the Norris sculpture and the park were removed seems to have been pretty straightforward and predictable: the City wanted to develop the land on which they sat.

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Georgia & Beatty, Vancouver. There is now a condo housing development on the former site of the Norris prism and park. Google Map, 2017.

Note

¹There has been at least one other Norris sculpture which has been removed from its original site: his pinwheel at Pacific Centre (located between the entry to what then was Eaton’s and the Toronto Dominion building, at Georgia and Granville). It was installed in 1974 and removed in 1988. “In 1996 a section of the steel design was famously mistaken for scrap metal and destroyed; the artist was understandably upset with this revelation (not to mention the work had been worth $50,000).” Source: Scout Magazine profile of Norris.

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4 Responses to Norris Sculpture a Viaduct Memory

  1. jmv says:

    I had blogged about this sculpture as well, shortly after George had passed away. It was thanks to Gary Sim that I got the quote below. Gary is speaking at this month’s Vancouver Historical Society talk on February 23.

    “According to a phone conversation Gary Sim conducted with the artist, the unnamed piece was effectively “a bridge marker” akin to those the Romans once placed at their bridges.”

    More:

    http://illustratedvancouver.ca/post/45647658813/george-norris-rip

    • mdm says:

      Thanks for commenting, J. For some reason, I didn’t find your piece about the Norris sculpture on Illustrated Vancouver when I was at the ‘due diligence’ stage of my research! Thanks for that and for the Gary Sims’ quotations therein.

  2. I remember that sculpture, and also recall it looking vaguely green in it’s later years thanks to algae and moss gathering inside and out of it… No question that it must have been there in 1991, too. Maybe even later.
    As I remember seeing it, I recall it looked bigger than was than most old photos I’ve seen it represented in. But if it’s indeed in storage at the Surrey Works yard, is it sitting next to the old Terry Fox memorial? Someone could do quite a piece on some of the public art installations that have strangely disappeared over the years. There were a couple of others on Granville Street of note that are long gone that I wonder even if the original artists know of where they went to, if they were not indeed ever returned…

    • mdm says:

      Thanks for your comments, Aaron. It seems from J’s quotations of Gary Sims that it wasn’t removed until sometime after 2004! So our recollections as to the life term of the sculpture were correct.

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