Lord Elgin Hotel – Articles
Lord Elgin and the case of the mysterious statue
From The Ottawa Citizen, June 6, 2011
By Ari Altstedter.
OTTAWA — On Saturday, someone entered the first-floor men’s room of the Lord Elgin Hotel, carefully placed a shopping bag on the floor and left.
Inside the bag was a century-old bronze statuette and a typed note.
The figure, of Gen. James Wolfe, was the property of the people of Canada and had been stolen more than 50 years ago, the note said.
“My conscience has bothered me for a very long time and I am now an old man.”
The note was marked with a stamp requesting that whoever finds the package forward its contents to Library and Archives Canada.
A guest found the package and gave it to the staff of the hotel. They were intrigued.
“It must have been quite something for him,” said Ann Meelker, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. “It obviously niggled him for a long, long, long time.”
When the hotel contacted the archives, the mystery deepened; curators there said it is not immediately obvious that the archives were ever in possession of the piece, let alone whether it had been stolen.
The note left no name, address or clue about who the mysterious note writer was, why he had taken the statue in the first place, what he had done with it for the last 50 years, or what finally triggered the decision to leave it on a bathroom floor.
The story behind the unusual drop-off is only hinted at in vague outline in the note, which reads, in its entirety:
“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. It is returned through the charity of strangers because my conscience has 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.”
The statuette, at least at first inspection, appears to be authentic.
At its base is an insciption that reads ‘Vernon March 1909.’ Vernon March is the English sculptor behind the Canadian War Memorial and the Champlain Monument in Orillia.
The War Memorial, which sits in the centre of Ottawa, was March’s last work; he succumbed to pneumonia and died in 1930 before it was completed, leaving it to be finished by his brothers.
But the statuette of Wolfe may be a much earlier work. If the inscription on the back is right, then March would have only been 18 when he cast the bronze.
Charlie Hill, curator for Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, says the statue seems like it could be an authentic March. He says that in 1911 the artist exhibited a statuette of Wolfe at The Royal Academy in London and made a number of casts for private collectors. Pictures of some of the casts can be seen on the websites of various online auction houses where they have fetched prices between $250 to $400. The statuette that appeared on the bathroom floor of The Lord Elgin bears a strong resemblance to the pictures posted by the online auction houses, and Hill says it’s possible the statuette is one of March’s original casts.
Whether the statue proves to be authentic, and whether the mystery of how it made its way from the Public Archives to the bathroom of the Lord Elgin is ever solved, it has certainly given Ann Meelker and other hotel staff something to think about.
“It’s been fun to try and figure out the puzzle,” she said.