Possible sighting of pilfered penguin sparks hope missing statue will return

Sometime in 2001, someone made off with a penguin statue from the Windsor Sculpture Park. Staff put up wanted posters and canvassed the city for the renegade bird — penguins are flightless birds, it couldn't have gone far. Now there's evidence of a possible sighting.

'They’re penguins, I mean, they travel. Hopefully one day they’ll reappear'

A chance discovery by Mike Evans has some wondering if this shape spotted in the Detroit River could be a penguin statue that's been missing from the Windsor Sculpture Park since 2001. (Mike Evans/City of Windsor)

Three regal penguins once surrounded a waterfall in Windsor's riverfront Sculpture Park — then there were two.

The piece was called Penguins on a Waterfall, by Yolanda Vandergaast. Each bird was near life-sized and weighed between 27 to 37 kilograms.

Sometime in 2001, someone made off with one of the penguins. Parks staff put up wanted posters and canvassed the city for the renegade bird — penguins are flightless birds, it couldn't have gone far. 

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The mystery stumped parks staff and has puzzled Lloyd Burridge, former commissioner of parks, recreation and culture, for years.

"We came down one day and there was only two of them," he explained. "We looked around, thought somebody tipped em' over, or hid them in the bushes or even threw them in the river. But we didn't find it so we think one was stolen and left Windsor."

Then, on Sunday, after more than 17 years of searching, a possible break in the case.

Mike Evans captured this photo he believes could show a penguin statue that's been missing from the Windsor Sculpture Park for more than a decade. (Mike Evans)

Mike Evans, an area blogger and photographer, spotted something penguin-shaped shimmering in the unusually crystal clear waters of the Detroit River. Could this be the missing masterpiece?

Evans said he hopes so.

"To be honest when I looked at the photo originally I didn't think anything of it, but when somebody suggested it I turned the photo around and I looked at it … 'It could be.'"

Lloyd Burridge was the commissioner of parks, recreation and culture for the city when the bird went missing. He's been puzzled by its disappearance for years. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The sculpture garden was financially supported by Lou Odette. Burridge said he included the big bird statues for a simple reason, "He liked penguins."

Burridge said he took the loss hard.

"I was kind of heartbroken because the children … always wanted to see the penguins," he explained. "It was a joy to watch them."

Local blogger and photographer Mike Evans spotted what looks to be the missing bird, beneath the ice on the Detroit River. (Jason Viau/CBC)

City staff searched far and wide, visiting garage sales and antique stores. A tug boat crew even completed a drag of the river, but didn't find a feather.

Penguin covered some ground

When Burridge received word the runaway bird might have been spotted at the bottom of the river near the Ambassador Bridge he said it gave him hope, even though it meant the aquatic animal would have covered quite a distance.

"They're penguins, I mean, they travel," he said with a laugh. "Hopefully one day they'll reappear."

Evans plans to continue searching the water using some GoPro cameras attached to a long pole. He's already been contacted by the city about where the possible sighting took place.

"I took 250 photos down here yesterday. If one of those could help find something that's been lost for 17, 18 years, I think that would be great," he said.

"The sooner they get down here, they get a boat out they get down there can find it and figure out one way or the other if that's what we're looking at."