142 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 1 JANUARY 2020
The lions were carved at 1571 Main Street, the site of the stone-cutting
workshop of J.A. & C.H. McDonald. (The site, near Main and Terminal, is
roughly where a McDonald’s restaurant now stands.) A sculptor named
John Bruce made the model for the lions and did most of the carving. Bruce
was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1863 and lived for times in Seattle and then
Oakland; he died in California in 1952.
Bruce modelled the courthouse lions after the four lions surrounding
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, in London. And no, for those who
might think otherwise, not all sculpted lions inevitably look alike—contrast
our courthouse guardians to the two Art Deco lions at the south end of the
Lions Gate Bridge. Those were sculpted by Charles Marega, unveiled
in 1939 and promptly criticized for being “too stylized” and too like “the
Sphinx of Egypt”.3 A longtime Vancouver resident originally from an Italianspeaking
area of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Marega also crafted the King
Edward VII Memorial Fountain—including a more traditional lion’s head—
unveiled by the old courthouse in 1912.
Sir Edwin Landseer sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square after which
Bruce’s lions were modelled. Landseer was a painter not known for any previous
sculpting, which may account for some criticism of his finished product.
What can certainly be said, however, is that by the time of his
commission he was already well known for his painted depictions of animals
(mainly dogs, stags and horses, with an occasional lion thrown in).
Landseer had by that time also painted Trial by Jury (also known as Laying
Down the Law), which depicts the Lord Chancellor as a poodle and other
members of the legal profession who surround him as dogs, and he had—
one hopes for unrelated reasons—become a favourite of Queen Victoria.
The “Landseer Lions” in Trafalgar Square were cast in bronze and installed
in 1867, almost a decade after Landseer was commissioned to do the work.
Bruce’s courthouse lions were made of granite, and each one weighs up
to two times any of its bronze-cast Landseer counterparts.4 The granite that
Bruce used came from an island at the mouth of Jervis Inlet; there is some
confusion about which island, but fittingly it appears to have either been, or
been near, Nelson Island, which was named after the admiral celebrated in
the Trafalgar Square column. One reputable source5 contends that the granite
was from Hardy Island, which is next to Nelson Island and named after
the commander of the HMS Victory, on which Nelson was killed during the
Battle of Trafalgar.
Bruce’s work on the courthouse lions ended in the spring of 1910. Reportedly
funds ran out before the lions were complete (in which respect they
are incomplete is not clear to a non-zoologist, but reports refer to noses, ears