The Polar Bear Compound in Stanley Park is an abandoned enclosure where Polar Bears were were kept in the Stanley Park Zoo before it closed.
The Stanley Park Zoo started in 1888 when a black bear was captured in Stanley Park and put on display. Over the years, many different types of animals, such as parakeets, canaries, seals, bucks, penguins, monkeys, wolves, and kangaroos, were added to the zoo. The peak of the zoo's popularity was in the 1950s.
The Polar Bear Compound was created in 1961 to hold polar bears safely. Tuk, the polar bear arrived in 1962 after his mother was killed by a hunter. More polar bears were donated by the Hudsons Bay company.
In 1994, the city had a referendum in which the people decided to close the zoo down. All the animals, except for Tuk, were relocated to other zoos by 1996. Tuk was too old and was allowed to live out his life in the Polar Bear compound. Tuk died in 1997 at the age of 36 and the zoo was permanently closed.
All the other structures, except the Polar Bear Compound, have been removed.
In the 1990s, the inside of the Polar Bear compound was used as a spawning location for the Stanley Park Salmon Stream which is located close to the compound.
In May 2023, Tony Osborn Architecture and Design (TOAD), unveiled a proposal for a 'Polar Bear Sauna'.
"In this proposal, the unused polar bear enclosure would be converted to a Nordic -style, public sauna. Borrowing from various sauna cultures around the world, this complex would become a public place for people to congregate, socialize and rest; especially in the wet winter months when social interaction is in such short supply."
"Imagine dipping into a cold plunge where, only a few decades ago, captive polar bears swam. The site's complicated history would make this sauna unlike any other in the world. It would re-engage a corner of the park that has been off-limits, while adding to the diversity of activities that make Stanley Park so vital in the first place."
Their intention is to work with the local First Nations and Parks Board on this project.
They would cover over the curved portion of the pool making a cave which you would enter through a waterfall. There would be a Rain Garden, Vanities and change rooms, showers, outdoor showers, steam room, indoor relaxation loung, cold plunge pool, hot pool, outdoor relaxation lounge, fern garden with water feature, and fire pit lounge.
The plaque says:
Presented to Stanley Park Zoo
Hudson's Bay Company
Incorporated 2nd May 1670
Named by Vancouver Children
Nootka, Jubille II, Princess Rupert, Prince Rupert
For the 125th Anniverary of Stanley Park there was an event called 'Celebrate! Stanley Park'. As part of this event there were some art installations put into the Polar Bear Compound. This signboard discusses the art project and says:
The Unknown Knowns: The Stanley Park Polar Bear PitThe haunting cement structure is all that remains of the Stanley Park Zoo which was started by the first Park Ranger Henry Avison (1888-1896). The Zoo finally closed 100 years later after the last remaining animal, a polar bear named Tuk, died at the age of 36.
The Unknown Knowns, an acrostic of the name Tuk, is a createive interdisciplinary project introduced by Vancouver based theatre company Boca Del Lupo, in conjuction with a group of visual and performing artists curated by Future Headspace. The TUK project's objectives are:
The work presented here by Ian Rhodes and Marina Glynn continues to research the future possibilities of the Stanley Park Polar Bear Pit as a site for exciting and innovative visual and performing arts.
All my life as an artist I have asked myself: What pushes me continually to make sculpture? I have found the answer. Art is an action against death. It is a denial of death. -Jacques Lipchitz
In 2008 Ian Rhodes was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and given a 50% chance of survival. He'd been making sculpture for over twenty years but from that point on his practice changed irrevocably, forever. These current works draw from this experience in an attempt to contextualize in the physical, the effects both on him as a person and at a more intense, viseral lever, the inevitable emotional neurosi within.
The work is a constant evolution from one piece to another, using the artist as the primary source of ideas and information. 'Apoptosis', for example, references his own dimensions as the construct. His weight and height are applied using the golden ratio to determine the sculptural parameters of the work. An attemp to bring order to chaos, light to dark and the potential for a formulaic solution.
His empathy leans clearly towards an individual staring into a futre it neither wants nor understands.
Ian holds a B.A and M.F.A from Stafforshire University in England and teaches metal sculpture for Continuting Studies students at Emily Carr University.
Marina Glynn’s art practice investigates issues of materiality, space, and counter form. She strives to challenge how we commonly view sculpture by questioning the importance of object making and the environment that it invades.
During her making process, the relationship between sculpture and space is critical. By fabricating territories both inside and around her works, she highlights the fact that her sculptures interiors are extensions of the space that surround its solid existence. Together, the tangible and the void work with one another in order to create one coherent idea.
Currently Marina resides in Vancouver BC. Since graduating from Emily Carr University in 2011, she continues to push boundaries by challenging the properties we associate with traditional sculpture.
“What I make is not any more important than the space that it exists in. The truth is; the space came first and I must respect it”. -Marina
The Polar Bear Compound in Stanley Park is located between the Stanley Park Information Booth and the Vancouver Aquarium, just off of Avison Way.
By Car: Take the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park, continue to the traffic circle and take first exit from the traffic circle to end up heading east on Stanley Park Drive. Continue to the Stanley Park Information Booth area. The Polar Bear compound is a short walk north from the Stanley Park Information Booth.
By Bicycle: Take the Stanley Park Seawall bicycle path from Coal Harbour to the Stanley Park Information Booth. Take the path north from the Stanley Park Information booth to the Polar Bear Compound.
By Bus: Take the #19 Stanley Park bus to the Stanley Park Bus Loop. From the loop it is a short walk east towards the Vancouver Aquarium. The polar bear compound is a short walk south of the aquarium.
Park at either the Stanley Park Information Booth Parking Lot or the Vancouver Aquarium Parking Lot if you are going to visit the abandoned Stanley Park Polar Bear compound.
For more detailed information (rates, times, etc.) about parking in Stanley Park, please read: Parking in Stanley Park