Mystery Of the Silver Goose

If you have ever travelled in or out of Ottawa’s McDonald-Cartier International Airport, you’ve probably noticed the distinct aluminum sculpture residing at the airport’s entrance. What you might not have noticed is that these sleek geese have a unique history and that they are quietly moved twice a year…

The sleek aluminum geese at the entrance to the airport. (Google Streetview)

The Ottawa Airport, or Macdonald–Cartier International Airport was previously called Uplands, or CFB Ottawa South/CFB Uplands. Once a joint-use civilian/military field, it was the busiest airport in Canada by takeoffs and landings, reaching a peak of 307,079 aircraft movements in 1959.

With the increase of civilian jet travel in the 1950s, the Canadian government decided to build a new field south of the original one, with two much longer runways and a new terminal building designed to handle up to 900,000 passengers/year.

James Strutt’s new 1960 Ottawa Airport. (image: Urbsite.blogspot.com)

This new airport that opened in 1960 was designed by famed Ottawa architect James Strutt, who designed many Ottawa landmarks including the concrete beach huts at Westboro Beach.

Strutt intended to create a ‘cultured atmosphere’ using modernist architecture, Canadian art, and stylish modern furniture. He wanted the new Ottawa airport to be the pinnacle of Canadian art and design and commissioned sculptor Louis Archambault. Archambault would later design sculptures for the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, which can be seen today on the lawn of the Museum Of History.

Archambault’s Expo 67 sculpture in Montreal.
Archambault’s Expo67’s sculpture is now on the lawn of the Museum Of History.

Archambault designed an large and striking metal architectural screen and large stylized “Canada Goose” sculpture called “Shape of Flight“. Situated on either side of the main entrance in reflecting water pools. The Shape of Flight goose sculptures are sleek, abstracted symbols of the iconic Canadian Goose.

James Strutt in front of Archambault’s 1960 aluminum goose sculpture at the entrance reflecting pool. (image: Urbsite.blogspot.com)
Shape OF Flight sculpture (image: Urbsite.blogspot.com)

Constructed from sharp edged curved aluminum, the goose sculpture remained at Ottawa’s airport terminal until it was renovated in the late 1980/90s when they disappeared until the latest renovation occurred. Re-opened in the early 2000s, Shape Of Flight returned to the main entrance of the airport on the grassy knoll, visible as travellers enter the stunning new terminal.

The geese sculptures either side of the 1960 Ottawa Airport main entrance. (image: GeoOttawa)
The sculptures are still visible in 1976. (image:GeoOttawa)
By 1991 the main entrance was renovated and the sculptures were removed. (image: GeoOttawa)

Now what is most interesting, is that the old 1960 sculpture continues to move, in fact MIGRATE like real geese, each Fall and Spring.

The Airport Authority quietly switches the goose sculptures to face the north in the spring to recreate the Canada Goose migrating back from the south, and in the fall switches the sculptures to face south when the real geese head south for the winter.

Aerial view of the original sculptures at the main entrance facing north in spring/summer…
…then switched to face south in the Fall/Winter to match the real Canada Goose migration.
Twitter account of the airport authority confirms the quiet migration rotation.

This was confirmed on Twitter by the airport, so you are not going crazy if you think you saw them facing one way one month, and the opposite way a few months later.

Andrew King, September, 2020

SOURCES:

Geo Ottawa

Google Maps Streetview

http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2012/12/uplands-airport.html

2 comments

  1. I am always surprised to learn something new by you Andrew.I have been to the airport so many times over the years and sadly I have never noticed these sculptures!! I will make sure on my next trip to take notice! Thank you !

  2. I had no idea the steel geese moved, I have been countless times to the airport never noticed and my spouse worked at the airport for 30 years and had no idea either. The things you learn.

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