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20 Facts About the Jade Canoe on the 20th Anniversary

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe arriving at YVR. This iconic piece by legendary Canadian artist Bill Reid means so much to YVR. It serves as the natural nexus point for the entire airport, where the public and passengers meet prior to grand adventures, and where countless photos have been taken over the past two decades.

Here are 20 interesting facts about this famous statue:

1. In 1996, when the International Terminal Building first opened, they had to lift the Canoe with a crane and lower it through the skylights because it didn’t fit through the doors

2. Considered as Bill Reid’s masterpiece, it took the Haida artist 4 years to make. He started in 1990 and completed it in 1994.

3. Before coming to YVR the canoe was at the Canadian Museum of History from 1994 to 1996. Now, a plaster copy of the sculpture at the Canadian Museum of History

4. The Jade canoe appeared on the Canadian $20 bill from 2004 until 2012

5. There are 13 passengers on the Jade Canoe including men and women, young and old, animals, humans, and mythical Haida creatures.

6. Many passengers touch the Canoe for good luck before they travel. It is said that the luckiest part of the Canoe is on the Old Mouse Woman’s nose, which is noticeably worn out.

7. The Canoe was made in Bill Reid’s studio on Granville Island, and then cast in bronze in 1994 at the Talix Foundry in Beacon, New York

8. The Canoe was first made with clay being placed on top of metal rods and mesh. Pieces of the canoe were then removed one by one to be casted into plaster.

9. Although the Canoe is made of bronze, the green patina is meant to represent BC’s official gemstone: Jade.

10. The “Ancient Reluctant Conscript,” the person paddling near the back of the Canoe, is actually a self-portrait of Bill Reid.

11. The Bear Mother and Dogfish woman both are wearing a labret, which extends their bottom lips, and shows that they are women of high social standing.

12. The Raven at the back of the Canoe is one of the most prominent figures in Haida mythology. He is known to be a trickster and his paddling is meant to represent the unpredictable nature of life. The Bear is wary of the Raven’s tricks and is keeping a close eye on him. 

13. The Mouse Woman is the Raven’s wise and ancient grandmother.

14. The Canoe weighs approximately 4,900 kilograms (over 10,000 pounds) which is more than 4 cessna 172s combined.

15. The Canoe is 6.05m (19.8ft) long, 3.89m (12.8ft) high and 3.48m (11.4ft) wide.

16. The Canoe and the diverse group on board represent not just one people, but all living beings of the world. Even though they are struggling to get along on the crowded canoe – the wolf is biting the wing of the eagle, who is biting the paw of the bear – they are all going in the same direction, paddling, and working with each other, as they are all on the journey of life together.

17. There are two castings of the Canoe. The first on was completed in 1991 and is at the Canadian embassy in Washington D.C. It is titled The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Black Canoe.

18. The Haida Gwaii is a collection of islands of the Northwest coast of BC, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. “Haida Gwaii” means “Islands of the People.”

19. The canoe was first sculpted in 1986 as a 1/6 scale clay model, and then a full-scale clay model in 1988.

20. In the bear family, there is the Grizzly Bear Father, the Bear Mother, who is human, and then two bear cubs: one good and one bad.

Bonus Facts!

21. More than 10 people worked on the sculpture

22. While working on the clay model of the sculpture, Bill Reid jokingly called the canoe Ship of Fools

23. The Chief’s talking stick was carved by Don Yeomans, who later carved the Totem Pole Celebrating Flight in 2007 which is now in the Graham Clark Atrium in the Link building at YVR

24. Bill Reid’s legacy lives on at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art located in Downtown Vancouver

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