Behind the covert operation to build Vancouver's Olympic Cauldron (PHOTOS)

Feb 16 2020, 4:10 am

Few permanent Olympic Cauldrons have gained such civic prominence as Vancouver’s Olympic Cauldron.

In fact, some recent host cities opted not to keep their Olympic Cauldron; in the case of London, the three-time Summer Games host city dismantled their 2012 Olympic Cauldron and sent the 204 specially-designed, pedal-shaped gas burners to each of the participating nations as a symbolic gesture of legacy.

But the Olympic Cauldron that sits today at Jack Poole Plaza is one of the few remaining symbols in downtown Vancouver that bluntly commemorate the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Over the years, it has become a landmark attraction — one of the city’s most photographed objects.

First of all, it is huge enough to qualify as one of Vancouver’s largest public art pieces. The installation is enormous, standing 31 ft tall, with each of the four legs measuring 54 ft in length and four ft in width. Its iconic form of four leg structures are interlinked to support four external burners and one central burner for a total of five burners.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Construction of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Construction of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

The legs are manufactured from steel clad with polycarbonate, which are provided with an additional exterior cladding of furnace-grade glass panels supported by hundreds of standoff rods. Natural gas and instrumentation lines are fed through the hollow cauldron legs for the ignition of the burners.

Then there is location: there could not be a better site in downtown for the installation than the prominent, accessible, newly-built location right on the central waterfront.

It is the centrepiece of Vancouver’s largest public plaza, which has since become a popular site for some of the city’s biggest events, and is frequented by both casual tourists and attendees of events held inside Vancouver Convention Centre.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron relit for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (J. Jones Photography / Facebook)

Mario Vancouver

The Olympic Cauldron is featured in the Vancouver course of the Mario Kart Tour game in 2020. (Mario Kart Tour)

Despite the surreal size and location of the structure, VANOC and the installation’s manufacturers and builders were still able to keep it a secret.

Tom Hamilton, the general manager for Axton, told Daily Hive Urbanized the structure was designed and built within a very tight timeline. His company engineered the structure, and subcontracted several key components, including the base support to Glotman Simpson, steel cutting work to Brenco, and the glass work to Studio G3 Glass.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Construction of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

The burners were designed by Australia-based FCT International, which is also behind the combustion systems of the Olympic Cauldrons for Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Sochi 2014, and Rio de Janeiro 2016, as well as the Pan American Games Cauldron for Toronto 2015.

“We had to sign a secrecy agreement at the start of the project. We quoted the project in May 2009, and then we were awarded the project in the middle of September,” said Hamilton.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

He says a project of this size and complexity would normally take about 26 weeks, but his team had just 14 weeks from the start of engineering to the date it was delivered.

They also had to overcome a multitude of issues on the project, specifically the distribution of the weight of the structure over a mezzanine of the convention centre. The structure has a weight of 37 tons, not including the required added foundations that replaced months-old concrete planters of the newly-built plaza. As well, VANOC wanted a taller Olympic Cauldron than what was technically feasible given the challenging structural conditions.

On-site installation of the structure began just one month in advance of the Games, with the construction work concealed behind a white-coloured, tarped, scaffolding structure, which was dismantled just hours before the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

As it turned out, funding for this replica, legacy Olympic Cauldron was not secured until Fall 2009, when Terasen Gas — now known as FortisBC — signed on as VANOC’s final sponsor and funded the installation at a cost of $3 million.

But of course, the design for the Jack Poole Plaza installation was not entirely forged from scratch.

The overall creative design of the permanent Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza replicates the temporary, prop Olympic Cauldron designed and built by Bombardier well in advance for the Opening Ceremony inside BC Place Stadium. The design maintains the icy crystalline appearance, reflecting the Opening Ceremony’s “fire on ice” theme.

Bombardier also designed the permanent, community Olympic Cauldron at Whistler Medals Plaza, and the thousands of Olympic Torch devices used by 12,000 torchbearers during the months-long Olympic Torch Relay. Wayne Gretzky would ultimately become the final torchbearer, after being transported on a pickup truck from BC Place Stadium to Jack Poole Plaza for the secondary lighting.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Shortly after the flame for the Paralympic Games was extinguished, modifications were made to the Olympic Cauldron’s base.

The bricks below this plaza area were removed, and a reflecting pool with a fountain was installed as an aesthetically attractive solution to prevent climbing of the structure or damage to the glass panels. Motion sensors and a CCTV camera were also added to detect and prevent illicit acts.

There were originally plans to include a VANOC-branded map of the route of the cross-country Olympic Torch Relay on the floor of the large pool, but that aspect of the design was never fulfilled.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Construction of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Ten years later, the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron is now the world’s most active Olympic Cauldron given the frequency of its relighting. It is rekindled for public events, celebrations, and occasions — such as Canada Day, Remembrance Day, Vancouver’s Olympic anniversaries, and subsequent Olympic Games — as well as select events held inside the convention centre.

But the Olympic Cauldron is not relit upon any request — there are standards and requirements to be met for its rekindling.

“We consider requests to light the Cauldron in conjunction with events at the facility, taking into consideration the event’s overall benefit and legacy impact to the local community,” said Jinny Wu, spokesperson for the Vancouver Convention Centre.

“Each event request is approached on an individual planning basis and merit regarding lighting the Cauldron.”

The minimum fee to light the Olympic Cauldron is $6,400, covering the relighting duration of at least four hours. This cost covers all related expenses, including the supply of renewable natural gas, security, carbon offsets, permits, and hiring qualified technicians from FortisBC to safely operate the burners. With proper maintenance, the Olympic Cauldron is expected to have a lifespan of 25 years.

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)

Vancouver Olympic Cauldron construction

Manufacturing process of the permanent Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, late 2009 to February 2010. (Axton)