A $700,000 killer whale sculpture that used to be on display along the Rideau Canal has been boxed up in a crate as the Department of Canadian Heritage develops a plan to keep it secure from thieves.

bill reid killer whale statue ottawa

Haida artist Bill Reid's sculpture 'Killer Whale' was recovered in January 2012, more than 16 years after it was stolen from the Fourth Avenue Pond in Ottawa. (Canadian Press)

The bronze statue by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid has not been on public display for nearly 20 years.

The piece of public art was plucked from the middle of the Fourth Avenue Pond along the Rideau Canal in 1995.

The mystery remained unsolved until an anonymous tip led to its recovery in January 2012. 

Ottawa Police Const. Marc Soucy said no charges have been laid in relation to the case. While "persons of interest" have been interviewed, there are no suspects at the time, he said.

Department of Canadian Heritage spokesperson Len Westerberg said the piece has been restored and will be displayed once "ongoing site analysis" is concluded.

The statue will not be returned to the pond in the Glebe from where it was stolen, he said.

"We’re looking for a suitable site where the sculpture can be kept safe and still be appreciated by the public," he told CBC in an email.

"Security of the sculpture — without altering the integrity or intent of the piece — is a prime consideration, therefore high-traffic and high-visibility locations are the most appropriate, with consideration for the enjoyment of the sculpture reaching the greatest number of people."

The sculpture is currently being kept in a crate in a "secure storage facility" in the Ottawa area, he said. 

Value of statue increased

Diana Nemiroff, a former curator for the National Gallery of Canada, said popular public art can become a target.

"When we love it, we steal it. That happened to the Bill Reid piece and it took a long time to find it again," she said.

The demand for Reid's work has continued to climb since his death in 1998, she said.

"He's deceased, so his work of course increases in value because there won't be any more entering the market," she said.

The National Capital Commission purchased the sculpture for $48,000.

The Department of Canadian Heritage, which recently took over responsibility for public art, said the killer whale was appraised at $700,000 in 2012.