05/26/2011

Giant Queen portrait eyes return to Winnipeg

Queen portrait

Anya Wilson, left, and Hazel Willis look over the Queen's portrait in this 2007 photo at a Whitby warehouse. The portrait was removed from the old Winnipeg Arena in 1999. (Ron Bull, Toronto Star)

There is at least one pair of eyes that saw every game the Winnipeg Jets ever played in the NHL.

And they belong to Queen Elizabeth.

Staring down at from the rafters of Winnipeg Arena, the world’s largest portrait of the monarch was a constant presence through the club’s NHL history, which lasted from 1979 to 1996, when the club moved to Phoenix. Three years later, the portrait was taken down and shipped to Whitby, Ont., for storage.

Now, it looks like it may be returning to the ‘Peg, just like the Jets. It's unlikely, though, that the Queen would sharing the same arena as an NHL team.

"I've had a conversation today which is very exciting and points to that but I can't say anything yet," Anya Wilson, the current custodian of the portrait, told Canadian Press. "It's just an inquiry but, if it develops, I think everyone in Winnipeg will be very happy."

Finding a home for the portrait has been difficult, mainly because of its size and weight. It is 5x7 metres and made up of a dozen separate wood panels.

"I think it would bring many ceilings down," Wilson said. "When it was at the Jets' stadium, it was deadbolted to the wall. You can't do that too many times to a portrait so it can't be a travelling exhibit."

Gilbert Burch was the artist and, using a picture from a newspaper as a guide, took about 200 hours to complete the portrait for which he was paid $1,600.

“It is iconic,” said Wilson. “It would be so good if she were able to return to her roots."

The old Winnipeg Arean was demolished in 2005 and replaced by the MTS Centre, where an NHL franchise would play. Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment are negotiating to move the Atlanta Thrashers to the Manitoba capital in time for next season.

A representative of True North said the portrait would not be in their plans since it is "outdated" and would block the sight-lines of many spectators.

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Hang it from the ceiling but it MUST return!!!

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