Hard Luck Lions

They sit regal, if a little mucky, on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. They watch the goings on in the courtyard and scare off anyone who tries to come in the wrong way. These fifteen ton lions look self-possessed and stern, but they have had a hard-knock life.

The VAG lions were inspired by their Panthera doppelgangers in London’s Trafalgar Square. Scottish sculptor John Bruce was paid around $8,000 to do the work for the then Vancouver Courthouse. He built the model and, with the assistance of Timothy Bass, started lion-shaping into blocks of granite from the Granite Island Quarries.

Bruce and Bass did their work out of the headquarters of J.A. and C.H. McDonald Stonecutters at 1571 Main Street. Word has it that money ran out as the economy tanked and Bruce stopped his carving. One of the lions was left with an incomplete nose, ears and mane.

In November, 1942, a mystery person hid dynamite in the western-most lion’s haunches and blew out granite chunks that smashed through neighbouring hotel windows and triggered fears of a Japanese attack.

lion after attack

To add insult to injury, the entrance that the lions were assigned to guard was sealed when the building was converted to the Art Gallery in 1979.

Written by Elizabeth Newton

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Sarah Daniels


Hilary Miles

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton