Few statues anywhere have aroused so much controversy or suffered so much abuse as the new cast-stone bust of Queen Elizabeth has in that "little bit of old England” called Victoria.
Since it first went on public display in the B. C. capital early this year, pranksters have stolen it, police have recovered it and vandals have battered it. Municipal leaders have argued over its quality, price and location; a newspaper has made it the object of a tonguein-cheek campaign, and an indignant royalist has reported the whole affair to Buckingham Palace.
A Victoria artist, Peggy Walton Packard, was commissioned to make the bust for the visit of the Queen and Prince Philip in July 1959. After making two statues from compounds she discovered were not hardy enough, she found the right formula for a third. By then the royal visit had been over for six months, and four municipal bodies were taking turns arguing over where the statue should stand and whether it was worth $1,200 (Mrs. Packard’s share was $300) — and who should pay for it.
While the argument over location continued, aldermen paid the artist and put the bust on display in the main corridor of Victoria’s city hall. A few nights later it disappeared. In its place, the thieves left a handful of pennies — an allusion to the Pennies for Packard campaign begun by the Victoria Times. The Times urged everyone in the area to give a penny apiece to raise $1.400 for the project and “save city council from further embarrassment.” But only $60 came in.
While civic officials fumed with embarrassment over the theft. Police Chief John Blackstock offered publicly to lay no charges if the bust were immediately returned undamaged. Three nights after the
theft, Sam Lane, who had offered to buy the statue and display it at his Olde England Inn in nearby Esquimalt. was roused from bed by a reporter who had received an anonymous phone tip. He went out into his driveway in his pyjamas and dressing gown and found the statue lying there undamaged. The culprits have never been caught.
Over numerous objections, the city council decided the bust should stand in Beacon Hill Park, where the Queen had presented a new regimental color to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Eight Infantry. While the site was prepared, the bust was hidden away.
Enraged by all the fuss, a Victoria painter. Phyllis Leece. threatened to take the city council and the newspapers into court if they didn't tone down the bad publicity. Then Mrs. Leece wired and mailed protests to Buckingham Palace, enclosing press clippings. The Palace did nothing, but the aldermen passed a resolution emphasizing their “chagrin and disgust” over the whole controversy.
On March 21. workmen finished erecting the bust in the park, but there was no ceremony. Twenty-six days later, vandals battered off its nose. Mrs. Packard spent five hours restoring it. Late in June, vandals attacked again, chipping one shoulder and cracking the neck.
The bust still stands in the park today, and Mrs. Packard, while weary of "a joke that went a little too far.” insists she got a few laughs out of the affair.
But Chief Blackstock seemed to be speaking for the majority of Victorians when he remarked recently; “The less said about it the better.” — IAN STREET
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