For years, Vancouverites have been treated to triumphant horn blasts each day at noon. Some locals believe the Port coordinates the sound, with possibly one or more tankers blowing their ship’s horn to denote midday. Others claim the blasts are from one of the downtown terminals, informing workers of their lunch break.
The truth is those four blasts that are heard each day at 12 pm are from the Heritage Horns. These air horns are located on the roof of Pan Pacific Hotel, at Canada Place. They were built to celebrate Canada’s Centennial. The tune they play is actually the first four notes of O Canada.
Local sound technician, Robert Swanson, designed the horns. They blow at 115 decibels and play for 6.5 seconds. To make the sound, Swanson equipped his device with 10 carefully tuned horns. Five of the horns blast north, towards the mountains and five are positioned to blast west, towards Stanley Park.
The horns were originally placed at the top of the BC Electric (BC Hydro) building at 989 Nelson Street in 1967. When the office tower was converted to condos in the early 90s, the horns were moved to their new location at Canada Place.
Initially the horns used a mechanical timer, but this proved inaccurate. On more than one occasion, downtown office workers were treated to an extended lunch as the horn blew earlier than expected. The problem was rectified with a digital timer.
Before the heritage project, Swanson designed and maintained horns for BC Ferries and various train engines.
Vancouver Bike Tours’ “Towers and Totems” tour takes guest to the gorgeous public square in front of Canada Place. This is a beautiful spot for dramatic pictures of the North Shore Mountains. Guests hear the horns approximately 1.5 hours later during the Stanley Park discovery section of their tour.