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176 days to go – Ilanaaq, the Vancouver 2010 emblem

August 20, 2009

Do you remember April 23, 2005?  I don’t know that I remember the day clearly but I certainly remember some of the kerfuffle around the announcement of “Ilanaaq” the inukshuk that is the emblem of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  There was surprise and consternation that an Inuit emblem was chosen for games on the West Coast, where the art is vastly different.  But there were also voices of support, embracing the coming together of Canada for these Olympic Games.

Ilanaaq - the Vancouver 2010 Olympic emblem

Ilanaaq - the Vancouver 2010 Olympic emblem.

How did I decide to write about the emblem today?  Well I was out at a lovely wine dinner tonight with Heidi (at Salt in Gastown with wines from Dunham & Froese from the Okanagan, seriously yummy, and yes, I will be coming to visit you Crystal & Kirby!), but I realized on my way out that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about tonight so I asked one of the servers what he was curious about regarding the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (maybe I’ll be a reporter-type person one day despite myself!).  He was from Australia, Perth as he told it, and I hope he has a chance to read this as I did not get his name (so much for my reporting skills).  Anyhow, he said something along the lines of “plenty!”, and, when pressed for details, his first response was that he was curious about the Vancouver 2010 emblem, as he had heard that it was designed in Asia.  I thought this required more investigation!  So the story continues…

So where does our emblem come from?  Well… Ilanaaq (pronounced el-an-awck) is an inukshuk (in-ouk-shouk).  Inushuk are stone statues built and used by the Inuit, the native peoples of northern Canada.  (Thanks to the wonder of wikipedia I have unravelled all sorts of mysteries.)  “Inukshuk” means “something which acts or performs the acts for or performs the function of a human”.  There are certain inukshuk known as inunnguaq which are an “imitation of a person”.  This is, more specifically, what our emblem is.

Inukshuk were used primarily for way-finding, marking the path to a hunting ground or a cache (often of food).  My personal memory of inukshuk comes from being on Baffin Island in 2001.  My Inuit guide, Etuk (a nickname meaning “old man” Tikivik, from Kimmirut, told me a story of how the Inuit of the area used to herd caribou.  It included inukshuk, to act as a fence (as there is so little wood for fencing in the far north).  The stone inukshuk would confuse the caribou and keep them together.  Slowly the hunters would move closer and closer to the herd, allowing them to calm and get used to their presence.  Eventually, with patience, the hunters would be near enough to the caribou to touch them with their arrows and when they were quite accustomed to human presence the herd could be hunted much more easily.  It is a story that has stuck with me for years and has sparked a fire to return to the north one day.  That and Etuk’s carving of a muskox for me.  How would stories and the experiences like that not inspire a return trip??!!

Back to Ilanaaq… he was designed by local graphic artists Elena Rivera MacGregor and Gonzalo Alatorre.  Their design beat out 1600 other entries!  The word Ilanaaq is supposed to mean “friend” which is a perfect term for Vancouver’s relationship with the world for the Olympics!  The design has been acknowledged to pay tribute to the inukshuk that stands in English Bay.  This inukshuk was created by Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet as a gift to Vancouver for Expo ’86.  I walk past this inukshuk nearly everyday and it never fails to thrill me (or evidently tourists and other fans, someone is always taking a picture!).

English Bay inukshuk looking towards the Burrard Street Bridge

English Bay inukshuk by Alvin Kanak, looking towards the Burrard Street Bridge.

The blues and greens of the emblem represent the coastal forests, mountain ranges and islands, the red is for the Canadian maple leaf and the gold is for the colours the city and mountains are painted at sunrise.  These colours are also reminiscent of the colours of the Olympic rings.  Jaques Rogge, president of the International Olympic committee said that he “loved it immediately” and though that it reminds him of  “a hockey player”.  And for us Canadians (and in Vancouver, Canucks!) a hockey player is a great thing to be reminded of!

For me, I guess I am unsurprised that there was controversy over the choosing of an Inuit symbol for games within the home of West Coast Native art, but I believe that the Four Host First Nations are doing a fantastic job of representing their peoples and really all of Canada with the art and culture they are bringing to the Olympics (see my posts on Jody Broomfield here and here, I love his work and am looking forward to seeing him again!.)  However, despite the controversy, I think that we have the perfect emblem for our Games.  It is something that most Canadians can identify with, and something that is identified with Canada.  It is clean and simple.  It is tied to Vancouver and to the Olympics.  Really, what more could we ask for?  I am happy to wear Ilanaaq nearly every day of my pre-Olympic life right now (actually I think it is everyday, and yes, I am that bad).  I hope you will be proud as well.  For Canada and for Vancouver 2010.  Ilanaaq is my friend, your friend and the world’s friend.  Now let’s make sure that we invite the world as our friend and do Ilanaaq proud!

Welcome to Vancouver 2010!  Thank you and Merci!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeremy permalink
    August 20, 2009 1:08 am

    Hi Andrea – glad you went for the logo idea, and glad it is purely of Canadian origin! Also glad you enjoyed the Dunham Froese event. Lots of gladness from this quarter.


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