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Vandalized and stolen: The history of Assiniboine Park’s Boy with the Boot statue

"The Boy with the Boot" statue at Assiniboine Park's English Garden is pictured on May 14, 2024. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg) "The Boy with the Boot" statue at Assiniboine Park's English Garden is pictured on May 14, 2024. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg)
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A bronze statue, once booted from Winnipeg’s former city hall and into one of the city’s busiest parks, has been nominated to receive an official historical designation.

The city’s historical buildings and resources committee will vote Friday on whether to add "The Boy with the Boot" to its list of historical resources.

The statue depicts a young boy with a loose shirt, long pants held up by a single suspender strap and a cap. He wears a boot on his left foot, while his right hand holds a leaking boot from his right foot, as water flows through it.

Though the statue has welcomed visitors at Assiniboine Park’s English Garden for over half a century, it has a rather quirky history involving theft, vandalism and a local radio host.

"The Boy with the Boot" is shown in a photo taken on May 14, 2024. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg)

Statue has unknown origins, inspiration: city

According to a city report, the statue first came to Winnipeg as a way to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. A Christian group planned to erect a fountain with a bust of the Queen. The pieces came with an $1,800 price tag largely paid for by dime subscriptions raised by junior members.

The bust was unveiled in July of 1898 at the city’s second city hall, affectionately known as the Gingerbread building. Alongside the bust set on a tall pillar was a bronze statue of a young boy set on a shorter limestone base, dubbed "The Boy with the Boot."

“The artist of the statue is unknown, but the statue itself was likely cast in Italy,” City of Winnipeg senior archivist Sarah Ramsden said in a video on the city’s website.

According to the report, theories on the statue’s creation range from nods to a drowned newspaper seller to a Civil War-era drummer boy who carried water to fallen comrades to a young firefighter who used his boot in a bucket chain or emptied it after the fire was out.

"The Boy with the Boot" braves the rain on May 14, 2024. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg)

Statue the target of numerous vandals, thieves

While the bust stayed at the former city hall even after it was demolished in 1962, "The Boy with the Boot" moved before 1913 to make room for a new driveway.

It found a rather inconspicuous new home near the Duck Pond at Assiniboine Park.

“In 1949, there’s some reports about people stumbling across the statue and it kind of being hidden across the trees there,” Ramsden said.

The statue arrived at its new, more prominent home in 1953 to adorn a formal entrance to the park’s English Garden.

"The Boy with the Boot" is pictured beyond the entrance of Assiniboine Park's English Garden on May 14, 2024. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg)

From there, the statue was the target of thieves and vandals on many occasions. According to the report, park officials found the statue with the boot missing several times.

In 1994, a local fraternity stole the entire statue. It resurfaced months later at the Charleswood home of former CJOB radio host Peter Warren.

“Warren found the statue in his barn with a note that said, ‘Timmy went on a journey. Timmy is lonely and wants to go home. Peter, take care of him,’” Ramsden said, noting she doesn’t know where the name Timmy came from.

“To me, this is a reminder that things around, things that we’re accustomed to seeing all the time and never seem to change - they actually have these rich stories behind them and can tell us a lot about our city.”

The parks department repaired the statue and reinstalled it at Assiniboine Park, where it has stood ever since.

Laura Cabak with Assiniboine Park Conservancy told CTV News Winnipeg in an email they were informed by the city about the statue’s nomination.

“We have no concerns with or objections to the proposed historical designation for The Boy with the Boot Statue ,” Cabak wrote.

The committee is set to vote on the designation at a meeting on Friday.

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