Thursday, 26 February 2015

Winnipeg Arena's Queen portrait returning to the city !

The final touches, Dec. 1, 1979, Winnipeg Tribune (Source)

Gilbert Burch's iconic 7-meter by 5-meter portrait of Queen Elizabeth that hung in the Winnipeg Arena from 1979 to 1999 is coming home to Winnipeg, thanks to Manitobans Jamie Boychuk and Michael Cory.

The portrait, commissioned by former Lieutenant Governor Bud Jobin, has been sitting in a warehouse near Toronto for the past thirteen years, intended for a Camp X museum that never materialized.

Its caretaker, Anya Wilson of Toronto, has always held out hope that one day it would return. She told me in December 2014 that "Winnipeg is where this portrait belongs and I would love to see it back in Winnipeg." Over the years there have been a couple of expressions of interest but when people realized the painting's size and weight, the interest waned.


Boychuk and Cory, both executives at CN, purchased the painting after hearing about it while Wilson was visiting the city earlier this month. “I remember the portrait very well, and I am excited to bring her back home to Winnipeg where she belongs,” says Boychuk. “It’s a very important piece of Winnipeg history, and I am so happy to deliver it back to a place where so many people remember it as part of their lives.“ The purchase price was not disclosed.

Kudos to Boychuk and Cory, though now comes the hard part: finding a place to show her !

I have to admit to being a fan of the portrait. It's one of those quirky bits of pop history that each city has and should embrace. My curiosity got the better of me back in 2012 when dug into its history for a blog post,that I recently updated for the Winnipeg Free Press,and have kept an eye out for news about it ever since.


I interviewed Wilson during her recent Winnipeg visit for my radio show. We spoke about the painting and what she hoped would happen to it, (this was prior to the sale.) You can listen to the interview here.

Past Media:

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth going Home to Winnipeg Toronto Star (Feb 27, 2015
Queen of the Arena has storied history Winnipeg Free Press (Dec 2014)
Queen's Portrait should hang in new arena Metro (Feb. 2012) Queen portrait heads to auction Free Press (Dec. 2011) Queen portrait going on auction block CBC (Dec. 2011)
Giant Queen portrait eyes return to Winnipeg TorStar blog (May 2011)
Largest known painting of Queen needs a home QMI (Jun 2010)

The news release issued February 26, 2015:


The large-scale portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that hung in the old Winnipeg Arena for nearly two decades may have disappeared from sight years ago, but it’s finally returning to the prairie city.

In 1979,  Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, Francis Lawrence (Bud) Jobin commissioned a painting of the Queen by commercial artist/muralist Gilbert Burch from the  global media agency, Mediacom.

On its completion, the 5x7 metre portrait was presented to the Winnipeg Arena located in the Polo Park district of Winnipeg. At the time, the arena was home rink to the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets franchise.

The portrait remained there until 1998, a few years before the aging arena was demolished by The City of Winnipeg in 2006 and was rescued from near certain destruction by Syd Davy, then president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Davy oversaw the storage of this historic artifact for several years. He eventually gifted it to Vancouver-based singer/songwriter Tim Lawson whom Syd described as, “The most patriotic man I know”.

Lawson had hoped to display the portrait at a museum being planned by the Camp-X Historical Society in Whitby, Ontario. His vision was that it would overlook the training camp grounds for Her Majesty's Secret Service. So Lawson arranged for the portrait to be transported from Winnipeg to the Camp-X location in 2002. However, for varied reasons, the portrait remained in storage ever since.

Over the years, Anya Wilson, who has long acted as custodian of the portrait, had continually heard from people in Winnipeg, whether hockey fans or not who have fond memories of the portrait and wanted its return to the city. While offers to purchase the portrait came from other parts of Canada, Wilson was determined that the portrait return to its Winnipeg home.

Wilson is now finally satisfied that the right purchaser has come  along.  While on a recent trip to Winnipeg, she was introduced by telephone to local artist Amanda Von Riesen who immediately mentioned the portrait to Jamie Boychuk. After a short bout of negotiations, Jamie Boychuk and Michael Cory, Executives at CN, have purchased the portrait and are proud to be bringing her home to Winnipeg.

“I remember the portrait very well, and I am excited to bring her back home to Winnipeg where she belongs,” says Boychuk.  “It’s a very important piece of Winnipeg history, and I am so happy to deliver it back to a place where so many people remember it as part of their lives.“

“Bon Voyage, Your Majesty!”

For Further Information:

Robin LeBlanc
Anya Wilson Promotion & Publicity
Tel: 416-266-2273
Cell: 416-9301896
E-Mail: robin@anyawilson.ca

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