Challenger map finds temporary home for Olympics
Part of B.C. map, made by George Challenger in the early 1950s, is finally out of storage
After a decade in storage, the iconic Challenger Relief Map will be dusted off and used during the 2010 Olympics.
A small portion of the giant-scale map of British Columbia has been installed in the atrium of the RCMP’s Vancouver Integrated Security Unit (VISU) building at 11411 No. 5 Road at Steveston Highway in Richmond. The unit will be in charge of security for the Olympics.
The map has been in storage since 1997, when it was removed from the Pacific National Exhibition grounds during the greening of Hastings Park. In recent years, it has been stored at an Air Canada hangar by Vancouver International Airport. The Olympics display is temporary; the map is still looking for a permanent home.
Eight of the map’s 196 panels have been freed from limbo to show dignitaries and security forces the topography of the province near the Olympic sites in Vancouver and Whistler. The section being used stretches from just north of Whistler south to Seattle, west to Vancouver Island and east to Hope.
“Part of it has been repainted and it’s been electrified, which is wonderful because it adds some zing to it,” said former Social Credit cabinet minister Grace McCarthy, who is part of a committee trying to find a home for the map.
“You’ll be able to look down and push buttons and be able to see the highway going up to Whistler and everywhere else in that part of the province.”
The other big change in the map is that white snowcaps and blue glaciers have been added to some of the mountains. The populated areas are a light lime-green, the mountains are a deep forest-green, the waters of Georgia Strait a soulful shade of blue.
“It’s as if it was a picture from a satellite,” said Alan Clapp, chairman of the Challenger Map Advisory Group.
“With all the colours, snow on the mountains, oh, it looks beautiful. Everybody’s knocked out when they see it, they can’t believe it. When we get all 196 [panels] done, it’ll be sensational, just sensational.”
The map is a marvel, a classic relic of the larger-than-life era of former premier W.A.C. Bennett. It took George Challenger and his family seven years to build, and is constructed from 989,842 pieces of quarter-inch fir plywood cut, painted and assembled on four-by-eight-foot panels.
The PNE’s B.C. Pavilion was built to house the map in 1954, when it was unveiled for the British Empire Games. It became one of British Columbia’s most enduring symbols, wowing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the PNE.
George Challenger was so proud of his map he sought and received permission to have his ashes stored underneath it after he died. His ashes lay beneath the map from 1964 until 1997, and are now with his family.
Unfortunately the general public won’t have access to the map during the Olympics, because security will be tight at VISU. But there may be some tours when the map is officially unveiled. McCarthy loves the map. “What I liked about it was that you could take your family and they were fascinated by the size,” she said. “They could picture the province, it was a great teaching tool.”
His grandson Bill said George Challenger was born in Kitchener, Ont. in 1881, and moved to B.C. in 1897. He was active in mining and logging, and started making relief maps in the 1920s. The first was of remote Loughborough Inlet on the central coast, where he was trying to figure out the best place to put in roads and railway lines.
During the Second World War he constructed a relief map of southwestern B.C. for military and evacuation purposes. He started the Challenger Map in 1946, aided by his son Robert and daughter-in-law Jean.
Legend has it Challenger built the map in his basement, which blows McCarthy’s mind.
“He must have had the patience of Job to do all that,” she said.
“Who would have have attempted that? People build boats in their basement and can’t get them out. Imagine building a province in your basement and taking it out piece by piece.”
As dazzling as the Challenger map is, Clapp and his committee have had a very hard time finding a permanent home for it, probably because it’s so big. Attempts to have it installed at the renovated terminal at the Vancouver International Airport and the new Vancouver Convention Centre failed.
Clapp said there are two possible permanent locations under consideration, but wouldn’t say where they are.
“We’ve had a couple of inquiries from outside of Vancouver [Kamloops and Harrison Lake], but the map belongs in Vancouver,” he said. “And that’s where it’s staying.”