Canada Place Vancouver

Even if you easily get seasick, there is still a boat in Vancouver on which you must go aboard: a boat that never leaves the harbor, and whose sails began as a few large toothpicks, some white pantyhose, and thread.[i] This “boat” is known as Canada Place Vancouver.

Canada Place was built on an old B. C. pier that was historic for docking ships from the Orient long ago. It was built as a “daring” building for the 1986 Expo. A pier was a fitting place for the theme of that World’s Fair, Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch. Unlike most World’s Fair buildings, Canada Place was also built for the future.

The building resembles an enormous ocean liner. Because of the five eye-catching white sails atop the building, it has become a chief landmark of Vancouver, B.C., and a great place to begin your tour of the city.

As a visitor, you don’t want to miss taking advantage of the “promenade decks.” In addition to the self-guided tour ( with fascinating historical photos and anecdotes, it offers outstanding vantage points for taking pictures. You can watch seaplanes landing and taking off, passengers on cruise ships embarking or returning from Alaskan cruises, and other activities in the Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour. You will have fascinating views of Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver, of the North Shore and its mountains.

Another feature unique to Canada Place is one planned by the architects—“an emotional collage as you move through and around the building. … Perspective views are created that are constantly narrowing or widening, opening this view and hiding another—sculptural forms that can be understood only from one vantage point.”[ii] Walk around looking for these kaleidoscopic views; you will be entranced!

There are frequent special events to attend ( and other attractions. Among those that occur annually are:

Canada Place is home to a number of interrelated functions:

  • Small shopping centre near the Pan Pacific Hotel
  • Restaurants, including the Five Sails waterfront restaurant—offering an “unforgettable combination of breathtaking views of Vancouver, award winning West Coast cuisine and gracious hospitality”  (, the Cascades Lounge—“the place to unwind, sit back and indulge your senses” (, and the Café Pacifica, which—among other things—encourages you to “enjoy the irresistible combination of exquisite Italian cuisine and live Opera as the Café Pacifica is transformed into a charming Italian bistro Saturday evenings.”  (
  • At the southern beginning of the pier, atop the business complex, is the 503-room, 23-story Pan Pacific Hotel. All rooms and suites of this five-star hotel offer panoramic views of the harbor, mountains, or skyline.  The Hotel lobby, extending onto a public deck, unfolds a resplendent view over the harbour and up to the mountains. A fountain sculpture, imitating the coastline of the Pacific Rim, flows into the lobby, cascading down a 20 foot high waterfall. (
  • Below the Convention Center is the Cruise Ship terminal—where most of Vancouver’s legendary cruises begin—primarily to Alaska, but also along 500 nautical miles in the Inside Passage on the west coast of British Columbia.  In 2001, Canada Place was expanded to make room for an additional cruise ship berth, for a total of three berths. For more than 30 years, the Port Metro Vancouver has been the primary homeport for Alaska cruises, offering passengers more ships and departure dates to choose from than any other port (the port includes terminals at both Canada Place and Ballantyne, with a combined total of 850,000 revenue passengers on 254 sailings from May to September, 2008).
  • A bus terminal lies near the Cruise ship terminal.
  • A 200,000 square foot Convention Centre—(In 2007 a new building—the West building—more than doubled the size of the Convention Centre to 470,000.) The two buildings are designed as a series of modules that can be combined or divided to suit the needs of any imaginable event.
  • Theatre—the world’s first permanent, ultra modern IMAX 3D theatre
  • World Trade Centre (Office Building Complex) “Just steps from downtown Vancouver’s financial district, world-class shopping and major transit hubs, the World Trade Centre is the ultimate address for any business that wishes to establish a prestigious presence in Vancouver.”

Eberhard Ziedler succeeded in making this building design both functional and magnificent. His architectural philosophy is to “transform functional and technical meaning into the emotional joy of using architecture. Technology is not an end in itself but a tool to create buildings that express the complexity of being alive, to respond to our emotional needs, making our lives richer and fuller by creating visual joy.”[iii] Canada Place is a perfect expression of that philosophy—so, enjoy the building and the anticipated, as well as the surprising things it offers.

[i] [i] From a personal e-mail from Alan Munn of Ziedler Partnership Architects, May 1, 2009. Munn stated, “Because the exhibit hall should be column free the structure needed to [be] supported at the edges. … EB Zeidler worked with Horst Berger (of Geiger Berger, the leading authority on fabric structures at the time) using stretchy white fabric (from pantyhose), thread and large toothpicks to come up with the prototypical model. The resulting structure resembled sails.”

[ii] From an unnamed article by chief architect, E. H. Ziedler, April 30, 1986. Sent to the author by Alan Munn of Ziedler Partnership Architects, May 1, 2009.

[iii] Ibid.

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