This proposal is situated on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. It's our hope that discussion around this proposal can further the work of reconciliation.
Just steps from the Vancouver Aquarium, overgrown ruins speak quietly of a darker time. These enclosures were once home to the Vancouver Zoo's collection of polar bears but have sat empty since 1997. A year prior, residents voted in a public referendum to close the zoo. All the animals were relocated except "Tuk" - a polar bear who had grown too old to transport. Since Tuk's passing 26 years ago, this corner of Vancouver's most important public park has sat dormant.
This part of Vancouver's history deserves a new chapter
Imagine experiencing Stanley Park in a completely new way
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.
Holding space for traditional custodians of the land
The intention of this proposal is rooted in respect for the local First Nations: Musqueam, Squamish, TsleilWaututh Nations, and their collaboration with the Park Board. If this project gains traction, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with the Stanley Park Intergovernmental Committee to ensure that the design acknowledges the park's history and honors the rich indigenous cultures that have shaped the land for millennia. Our proposal for reinhabiting this place is intended to align with the vision and values of the Committee by incorporating the principles of reconciliation and cultural sensitivity. We dream of a space that fosters unity, healing, and appreciation for the diverse community Stanley Park serves.
This proposal is an unsolicited design concept by TOAD (Tony Osborn Architecture + Design Inc.) It's meant to visualize the potential for this underused public space and, hopefully, start a conversation about its future. For more information about TOAD, check out the website or Instagram.
Vizualizations by Miguel Orellana.