Golden Boy survives war and weather to shine brightly over Manitoba

For most people, the golden years are a time to shine. For one person in Manitoba, the golden years have lasted a lifetime.

Despite advanced age and size, that person is still a boy ? the Golden Boy. Sitting atop the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg, the figure has overlooked the provincial capital for nearly 90 years.

Reportedly based on a famous statue of the Roman god Mercury, the Golden Boy is a runner ? a symbol of the province moving forward. He is perched atop the dome of the legislative building, facing north where the future of the province lies in its mineral resources, fishing, forestry, hydroelectric power and the province?s seaport.

However, this nod to the future was firmly rooted in the past.

When the Manitoba government decided to proceed with a new legislative building in 1911, a competition was held to select the best design. It was open to all architects within the British Empire and offered a prize of $10,000.

Of the 67 designs that were submitted, the proposal by Frank Worthington Simon from Liverpool, England came out on top. The design included a statue on top of the building?s dome.

Simon worked with French sculptor Georges Gardet to create sculptures for the building, including the Golden Boy.

Working with the artist, Simon changed the design several times. An engineer was also brought in to ensure the statue would endure the elements in Manitoba, especially the wind.

The Golden Boy was cast in bronze at the Barbidienne foundry in France in 1918.

Instead of Winnipeg, the First World War intervened. The foundry was destroyed during a bombing campaign, with the Golden Boy reportedly the only item left unscathed.

After being rushed to port to begin the voyage overseas, the travel plans changed at the last minute. The ship that was to carry the Golden Boy was commandeered to transport troops and supplies.

He spent considerable time in the hold of the ship making numerous trips through the war zone, including a couple of transatlantic crossings. With the conclusion of the war, the figure arrived in New York and was sent by rail to Winnipeg, arriving in August 1919.

At more than four-metres high, the Golden Boy was finally hoisted to his new home on top of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Nov. 21, 1919.

Carrying a sheaf of golden grain in his left arm, the right hand of the Golden Boy holds a torch high ? calling youth to enter the race.

With the tip of the torch 77 metres above the ground, it was once the highest point in the city.

A light was later installed in the torch to mark Canada?s centennial in 1967.

The weather gradually took its toll on the Golden Boy, causing the colour to become dull and faded. When cleaning proved to be a short-term solution in 1948, the government decided to cover the statue in gold leaf three years later.

Another overhaul was necessary in 2002. Inspections found major structural and surface damage to the figure as well as the pin holding it in place. As a result, the Golden Boy was lowered to the ground for the first time since its installation.

In addition to being refurbished, the Golden Boy was also recoated in gold leaf.

The statue was placed back on top of the dome of the legislative building in September 2002. During her Golden Jubilee visit to Canada that same year, Queen Elizabeth II dedicated the Golden Boy at a ceremony in October.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history.