Archives Canada reclaims mysterious Gen. Wolfe statue

Ottawa archivists say a bronze statuette of 18th-century British general James Wolfe allegedly stolen more than 60 years ago and returned under mysterious circumstances belonged to their collection.
A photocopy of the note found in a bag along with a statuette of General James Wolfe allegedly stolen from the national archives. (CBC)

Ottawa archivists say they believe a bronze statuette of 18th-century British general James Wolfe, allegedly stolen more than 60 years ago and returned under mysterious circumstances, did in fact belong to their collection.

It was in June this year when a man approached security at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa with a grocery bag containing the 25-centimetre-high statuette and a note claiming the statue had been stolen from Public Archives of Canada, now known as Library and Archives Canada.

Officials at Library and Archives Canada were baffled at the time, saying they weren't even sure they ever had such a statue in their collection.

Now officials say, based on interviews with retired former workers and records dating back 90 years, they believe the statuette was once held at the old Public Archives of Canada building on Sussex Drive.

The statue was one of four statues by the same artist the archives acquired, according to an acquisition paper dated 1914.

The archives had records of three of the statues going to other museums.

Library and Archives secretary general Fabien Lengellé said he believes the fourth, the one of General Wolfe, sat in a preservation room at the old building on Sussex Drive and that's likely where it was stolen.

"We had to go back in our own archives," said Lengellé. "And we had to look for a needle in a haystack."

The Lord Elgin Hotel on Wednesday returned the statue to Library and Archives Canada, where it will be authenticated.

While the mystery of where the statue came from has been solved, archivists and workers at the hotel are still wondering who stole the statue.

The man who approached security at the hotel on June 4 said he found the bag in a men's bathroom at the hotel. He then left before he could be questioned further.

The statuette of the British general who defeated the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was missing its sword, and the base was slightly damaged.

The note, dated May 22, 2011, requested the statue be returned to Public Archives of Canada. 
Anne Meelker says the statuette's worth has yet to be determined. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

"This statuette of Wolfe was stupidly stolen in the 1950s from the old building that then housed the Public Archives of Canada on Sussex Drive," the note read.

"It is returned through the charity of strangers because my conscience bothered me for a very long time, and I am now an old man. I very much regret this act of foolishness and apologize to the authorities for having deprived the Archives of this artefact."

Hotel director of sales and marketing Ann Meelker said it would likely remain a mystery.

"People still keep calling me and saying 'Where is it? What happened to it?" said Meelker. "I don't think we'll ever find out who took it and why he left it with us."

Hotel worker Sarah Kennedy hopes the man can now move on.

"For the gentleman who had it all this time can feel better about it going where it belongs," said Kennedy.