A giant portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that was a longtime fixture at the former Winnipeg Jets' home is coming out of storage in Ontario and heading back to Manitoba.
The five-by-seven-metre painting of the Queen that hung from the rafters in the old Winnipeg Arena for 20 years has been purchased by Jamie Boychuk and Michael Cory, two CN executives who plan to bring it back to Winnipeg within weeks.
"Winnipeg is going to be happy to get this back, I'll tell you that," Boychuk said as he looked at his new acquisition inside a storage facility in Whitby, Ont., on Friday.
He would not say how much he and Cory paid for the portrait, but they believe it's priceless.
"It means so many memories for me — of the old arena, of being a young kid in the '80s, going to hockey games with my father," Boychuk said.
The portrait has been languishing inside the high-security facility in Whitby, near Toronto, since 2002.
Commissioned in 1979
The painting was commissioned in 1979 by then-Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Francis Laurence Jobin.
The work was painted by Gilbert Burch, who also painted the previous portrait of the Queen that hung in the arena prior to renovations, during Winnipeg's championship World Hockey Association years.
When the Winnipeg Jets moved out of the arena in 1996, the Queen left shortly thereafter.
The hockey team moved to Phoenix while the portrait headed for restoration — including to repair marks made by pucks when hockey players would aim for the Queen's mouth.
After several years in the care of Syd Davy, then-president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, the portrait was gifted to Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Tim Lawson.
Lawson had the portrait shipped from Winnipeg to Whitby, where he wanted to display it at a museum that was being planned by the Camp-X Historical Society.
"However, for varied reasons, the portrait remained in storage ever since," states a news release from Anya Wilson, who has been the custodian of the massive painting.
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The news release said Wilson had received numerous offers from across Canada to purchase the painting, but she wanted to ensure it returns to Winnipeg.
It was on a recent trip to Winnipeg that Wilson was introduced to Boychuk through a local artist. Boychuk and Cory bought the portrait following a "short bout of negotiations."
Local historian glad portrait coming home
Winnipeg blogger and historian Christian Cassidy said he was elated when he heard the giant portrait was coming home.
"Every city has its kitschy odd bits of history that make them unique and different and fun, and one of Winnipeg's happens to be that we have this ridiculously massive picture of the Queen that hung in our arena," he said.
Cassidy said the portrait in question came about because a previous version wasn't considered a fair representation of the Queen.
"It wasn't a very good likeness," said Cassidy. "When the arena was expanded in 1979 … they decided this would be a perfect time to bring the painting up to date."
The lieutenant governor, along with the then-owner of the Jets and others, contributed to getting the painting commissioned, said Cassidy.
He said the fact that the painting hasn't made its way to the landfill in all of this time should be taken as good omen for its new owners.
"That it has survived for this long and the fact there is a private buyer willing to shell out money to buy the painting … hey, if a building owner wants to put it up, put it up and let's celebrate it."
Jets came back in 2011
The old arena was demolished in 2005-06, and a year later the MTS Centre opened in downtown Winnipeg as a home to the Manitoba Moose, the city's American Hockey League team.
While the Moose were successful, they were never an NHL-level team, which the city still hungered for since the Jets left.
In 2011, the NHL returned when True North Sports and Entertainment bought the Atlanta Thrashers and relocated then to Winnipeg. True North then resurrected the Jets name.
Since the current Jets moved to Winnipeg, at least one fan has kept the royal presence alive by dressing as the Queen for home games.
Where in Winnipeg would the portrait go?
There are currently no details on where in Winnipeg the portrait of the Queen would be put on display.
Officials with the MTS Centre have long said the size of the arena, which is the Jets' current home, cannot accommodate the large painting.
Cassidy noted that Winnipeg's painting of the Queen — measuring five by seven metres — was the biggest in the world until an even larger portrait, at five by nine metres, was put on display in Manchester in 2012.
"So you can't slap it up on any wall. You need a pretty heavily reinforced wall," he said.
Boychuk was coy when asked where in the city the portrait would reside.
"It needs to be in an area that we can showcase it and bring back memories for those people," he said.