Who Controls BC Place’s Light Displays?

Meet the woman behind the stadium's dazzling expressions of light.

February 9, 2018

By Michelle Cyca / Photo: BC Place

First things first: if you want BC Place to light up their 38,000 square metre roof for your proposal or birthday, you’re probably out of luck. “We’ve had a few who wanted to propose in False Creek and have the stadium light up to say something like, ‘Will you marry me?’ across the water.” These hopeful romantics were denied by Amy McCabe, Marketing and Communication Coordinator at BC Place, who reviews all lighting requests to the stadium. “That would probably be opening a can of worms.” She did once agree to a gender reveal for a reality TV shoot (McCabe thinks it was Real Housewives of Vancouver, but only true fans can say for sure), but that was a singular exception.

The other thing you should know is that winter occasions will get the best mileage. The lights are synced to an astronomical clock, switching on at sunset and shutting off at sunrise, with an intermission from 11PM and 6AM. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, that means the stadium is lit up for nearly nine hours per day. In peak summer time, it can be an hour or less. This is too bad, because its annual Pride display—a joyful revolving rainbow—is one of its loveliest, and deserves a long turn under the night sky. Just like a real rainbow, fortunate passers-by might catch it on a random evening. “Sometimes I schedule it just because it’s one of my favourites,” McCabe says.

For a geographically small city, Vancouver is lousy with light displays—the iconic dome of Science World, the sails of Canada Place, the jaunty saucer of the Harbour Centre, the gleaming Art Deco outlines of City Hall, and the pillowy dome of BC Place. All offer cheerful illuminations in the long grey stretches of Vancouver Seasons, thematic light therapy for a SAD-afflicted populace. We may not have sunlight, but we have regularly-updated LED displays to entertain our Twitter-damaged attention spans and snag our fleeting, fickle gaze.

The largest of these is BC Place: with 1700 panels of light embedded with 6912 lights (that’s 6,521 more than its luminous neighbour Science World). Each of these lights is four feet long, and embedded with red, green and blue LEDs that can be individually adjusted to produce 16 million different colours. That’s more colours than our dumb human eyes can perceive, but a mantis shrimp would really enjoy the variety. McCabe submits requests and concepts to Eos Light Media, a design firm in Railtown that creates and manages incandescent displays including TELUS Gardens, the Jack Chow Building, and the glowing smokestacks of the South False Creek Energy Centre. Eos generates the lighting scheme, which can be deployed and controlled via an iPhone app on the phones of select BC Place staff. Apparently no one has ever butt-dialed the wrong lighting scheme, which demonstrates impressive professionalism on the team’s part.

Last year, BC Place fulfilled 70 special requests amid their calendar of pre-planned civic occasions (Canada Day, New Year’s Eve), sporting events, and gigantic concerts. In addition to the expected awareness months and major festivals, there are a few low-key surprises in the mix. In December, the roof was lit up in the colours of the Colombian flag for Día de las Velitas, or Day of Little Candles, a national holiday celebrating the immaculate conception. In April, the dome glowed for National Guide Dog Day, a day of recognition for good boys everywhere. The woman who submitted that request later sent a thank you card to BC Place staff, which pictured her current guide dog posing with a photo of her previous guide dog.

As Vancouver gains more effulgent landmarks, the people behind the light switches have begun to form a sort of consortium of light. BC Place has long coordinated with their sister facility, the Convention Centre, as well as the neighbouring Science World. But recently they’ve begun bringing City Hall (who also control the lights of Burrard Bridge), the Harbour Centre, and Canada Place into plans for synchronous schemes. The first planned display of unified radiance happened on January 27, as all our civic landmarks lit up in red and white to support Canada’s team in a Rugby World Cup qualifying match against Uruguay (we lost, but it was a rousing spectacle of national pride.) Maybe between events, they can band together to turn the lights up to full brightness, creating an urban landscape of artificial SAD lamps to help us all survive the winter.

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