The Explanation Behind The Odd Granite Obelisks Of Mount Pleasant

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The first time I noticed the odd little granite obelisk pictured above on the corner of E 11th and Ontario was just over a year ago after moving to Mount Pleasant. Not thinking much of it at the time, I simply believed it marked the border of the east/west axis of the city that runs along Ontario Street.

A few months later, however, after a growler fill at 33 Acres, I spotted another granite marker, this time at E. 8th and Ontario. Upon closer inspection, I could see that this one displayed the same pattern of black hash marks as the other one up the street.

I was intrigued. What exactly were these obelisks and what exactly did they mark? And when were they installed? Are there more of them around the city? Could they possibly be some kind of public art installation? The friend who was with me at the time even suggested that maybe they were markers indicating one of the neighbourhood’s many extinct streams that use to flow down to False Creek or drain into The Flats.

When I discovered a third obelisk at 18th and Ontario, I knew that it was time to get serious about figuring this mystery out. I started by surveying some of my friends and neighbours. A few were aware of the markers (not knowing what they were), but most had no idea at all of what I was talking about.

The internet proved more fruitful. I quickly learned that the City installed the obelisks to serve as a stylized map to show one’s location along the Ontario Greenway. The small circle on each marker represents one’s current position in reference to the cross streets – displayed as horizontal lines – along the way. Very interesting, but I was still in the dark as to when they were installed, not to mention the extent of the map they make.

After contacting the City through 311, I was eventually directed to the City’s Streets and Transportation Planning group. Douglas Scott, a Landscape Architect with the City, was kind (and patient) enough to fill in the gaps.

It turns out the markers were designed by a City landscape designer working on the Ontario Greenway in 2002. Douglas explained that there were a total of 12 granite obelisks at seating areas along Ontario Street. So far I have only been able to locate 7 of them: at East 7th, East 11th, 18th Avenue (on a traffic island), 27th Ave (in front of General Wolfe Elementary School), Woodstock Ave., 58th Ave., and just south of SW Marine Drive.

There are a series of 9 horizontal black lines etched into each obelisk that represent the primary arterial streets crossing Ontario. There is also a small green circle etched into each obelisk. Douglas confirmed that this circle “o”, which is at a different location on each of the obelisks, did indeed represent where one is along the greenway in relation to the arterial streets.

Douglas further revealed that the light grey speckled granite was locally sourced to match the old granite curbs that were re-purposed at locations along the greenway. Each obelisk stands about 3 feet high and features a natural finish top and base, as well as a bush hammered (lightly textured) finish in between.

As they are considered to be a street feature, the granite obelisks are not included in the City’s Public Art Program inventory. Perhaps one day they will be.

In any event, the next time you are racing down Ontario St. on your bike, slow down and check out these interesting greenway features. And if you find more than 7, please let me know.

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Obelisk at E. 8th and Ontario.

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Obelisk detail.

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Granite obelisk at 18th and Ontario.

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A different angle of the obelisk at E. 11th and Ontario.

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Marker in front of General Wolfe Elementary School at 27th and Ontario.

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Marker in front of General Wolfe Elementary School at 27th and Ontario.

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There are 5 comments

  1. Thank you for taking the time to investigate this mystery, and sharing the answer with all of us! I’ve passed by these markers countless times and often wondered the history behind them.

  2. Thanks, Kieran & Michael! The one at Woodstock is actually in the list in the article, I just didn’t get there to take it’s picture. Ditto for the two others south of the Woodstock one.

  3. I took a slow bike ride and found 3 more. There’s one right at Broadway, one at 44th and one at 42nd.

  4. Not sure if you are aware of the one located directly across the street from VCC at Glen and 8th Avenue. Strange location as it is nowhere near Ontario Street. Noticed it a week ago walking near China Creek. Could it be a separate series of installations? Curious..

    Great article. Thank you.

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