On a beautiful sunny day in April, YVR celebrated 20 years since the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe arrived at the YVR airport. Bill Reid originally had the sculpture created as a 1/6 scale clay model and then later enlarged to its full size. This final clay version was then cast in bronze and the first bronze version, entitled The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, The Black Canoe, now sits outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington. The second casting, entitled, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe, was first displayed at the Canadian Museum of History and then in 1996 was brought to its current location at YVR, in the International terminal building. It was only two years after this that Bill Reid passed away.
The festivities began with a welcome from Anne Murray of YVR. Frank O’Neill, former president of YVR and the person primarily responsible for bringing the Jade Canoe to YVR, told the story of the Jade Canoe’s journey to its current location. Most intriguing is the photo that came back overexposed, leaving the image of the jade canoe with a greenish tinge resembling Jade, the stone representing BC. This mistake in developing the film was what would inform the decision to create a Jade patina for the Canoe at YVR. The final speech came from Dr. Martine Reid, Bill Reid’s widow.
The highlight of the celebration was the visiting Haida dance group, K’uus’iixuu T’aaxwii – meaning far South song birds. This is where onlookers felt, rather than heard in words, the significance of the Jade Canoe at the YVR airport. The Jade Canoe represents and celebrates not only the Haida culture, but each of the First Nations cultures in BC, to every traveller that passes it by. Bill Reid was of a generation of artists that remembers an art form that was considered a novelty and not an art form. Robert Davidson, another Haida artist who studied under Bill Reid, remembers selling his art by the inch. Now his art is known around the world. This transition has happened in less than a lifetime and is certainly something to celebrate. Thanks to the K’uus’iixuu T’aaxwii dancers, the event was just that – a celebration of a culture and art form that is vibrant and alive today.