Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to spell HST: Host without the Olympic "o."


In the weeks before the 2010 Winter Olympics opened Feb. 12, a big, white box to the west of the Vancouver Convention Centre, hid something special.

I cornered Premier Gordon Campbell Feb. 8 when he unveiled a tribute to late VANOC chairman Jack Poole at the Four Host First Nations pavilion and revealed the next day that the big, white box on Jack Poole Plaza was concealing the outdoor cauldron.

Wayne Gretzky was taken, by pick-up truck, to the foot of Thurlow Street after the opening ceremony, and marked the official end of the Olympic torch relay by lighting the outdoor cauldron. About an hour later, the one inside B.C. Place Stadium was extinguished for fear that it would burn the air-supported fabric roof.

VANOC, in its haste to organize the Games, didn’t realize the plaza would become a hot spot for shutterbugs. I witnessed one fella climb the chain link barrier to get a better photo.

The excuse was that it was inside the security perimeter for the international broadcast centre. VANOC finally buckled to public pressure. The fencing was altered and a viewing deck opened, but it was still far from perfect, even during the March 12-21 Paralympics when crowds were smaller.

The Terasen Gas-sponsored cauldron burns again during the Canada Day at Canada Place festivities on July 1. The fences that remain are supposed to disappear as the edifice on Jack Poole Plaza becomes a monument to the 2010 Winter Games and their torch relays.

The official schedule shows various indoor and outdoor activities from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., a mass-singing of O Canada when the O Canada horns sound at noon, 7 p.m. Georgia Street parade, 8:30 p.m. light show on Canada Place’s soon-to-be-replaced Five Sails and the 10:30 p.m. Burrard Inlet fireworks.

No ceremony is planned to re-light the cauldron, which is supposed to burn from 10 a.m. until the conclusion of the fireworks.

The Olympic flame was lit Oct. 22 in Ancient Olympia, Greece, flown to Victoria, B.C. Oct. 30 (where it was also protested) and carried coast-to-coast-to-coast around Canada for 106 days by 12,000 people (including your humble servant). But on Canada Day, an anonymous control room operator inside the convention centre will activate the cauldron with no pomp, circumstance or fanfare.

So much for the spectacle and the so-called sacred sculpture.

But why should we be surprised? Such a ceremony would have to involve Campbell. The Premier's worst nightmare is for the anti-HST Red Bloc to show up en masse in red mittens and simultaneously rip them off to reveal one-fingered salutes on day one of the unpopular sales tax shift.

Before it was the site of the cauldron, before it was called Jack Poole Plaza, it was the scene of the Sept. 19, 2009 anti-HST rally that kicked the sales tax revolt into high gear.

Host province British Columbia is now an HST province to clean up the Olympic debt.

Hope you enjoyed the party!

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