News / Calgary

It’s lit: Inside the Calgary Tower flame

One person called 911 to report building was on fire

Ski racer ‘Jungle’ Jim Hunter lights the torch atop Calgary Tower 

as the Olympics begin in 1988.

Courtesy / City of Calgary Archives

Ski racer ‘Jungle’ Jim Hunter lights the torch atop Calgary Tower as the Olympics begin in 1988.

It’s been a treasured part of the Calgary skyline since the 1988 Winter Olympics 30 years ago, but do you know what the Olympic flame atop the Calgary Tower actually is?

(At least one poor confused person doesn’t know: They called 911 the night of the Opening Ceremonies for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, reporting the building was on fire, a city spokesperson said).

According to an email from Katie Urness, Manager of Operations and Guest Services at Calgary Tower, the ten-metre flame atop the privately held building is “similar to a gas fireplace, just larger. There are 4 pilot lights and the main natural gas line that make up the base of the cauldron.”

However, Calgary Tower would not divulge how much fuel the flame uses or the amount of carbon it emits.

And if you were picturing a Quasimodo-like figure who hermits all year at the top of the tower, mostly made obsolete by LED lights and only emerging to light the flame on special occasions such as Canadian Olympic gold medals, Remembrance Day, and major sports events — sorry, it’s not nearly as dramatic as that.

“A flame lighting does not impact our daily operations,” Urness’s email said. “In order to ignite the cauldron one of our operations staff electronically ignites the pilot lights, and when ready they open the main gas line to fill the cauldron with the Olympic flame.”

That seamless process is a far cry from when the flame first flew in February 1988. Olympic alpine ski jumper “Jungle” Jim Hunter, clad in a harness, rappelled up the side of the tower and lit the cauldron by hand, with a torch made to look like a tiny replica of the tower itself.

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