Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Golden Boy
As part of my on-going quest to see what I can do for free this summer, and because the Queen was coming to town, I decided it was high time I explored our Legistlative Building. We've lived in Winnipeg for almost 20 years and I've never been! So, once again, I rounded up a friend and set off with the camera.
The Legislative Building is located in the south part of downtown Winnipeg on 30 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Government House, residence of the Lieutenant-Governor, is located on the southeast corner of the grounds. The Assiniboine River, once a route used by fur traders and explorers, forms the southern boundary.
The river was really high when we were there and the dock was under water - and I doubt the tour boats were around when the building was under construction!
The other three boundaries are formed by Osborne Street on the west, Broadway Avenue to the north and Kennedy Street on the east.
Excavation of the "Ledge" began in 1913. By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, walls were beginning to take shape above the foundation, but a shortage of material, labour and funds delayed construction to such an extent that the building was not ready for partial occupancy until 1919, well after the end of the war. On July 15, 1920, the province's 50th anniversary date, opening ceremonies were performed by Sir James Aikins, then Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba. (Just a bit of history to make reading all this semi-worthwhile!)
The Building is actually steeped in mystery!
Many of the designs in the building are repeated. The Grecian key, as well as other symbols of eternity, such as the wave or running dog pattern and the circle motif, are found throughout the interior and the exterior of the building.
Also repeated throughout the building is the number 13, as seen in the number of bulbs in the Roman Standard Lamps that help light the Rotunda. Some believe the number symbolized luck for the ancient Egyptians. Others believe the number holds symbolic importance to freemasons, whose members were, no doubt, involved in the design and construction of the Legislative Building. Frank Albo, who wrote the book, The Hermetic Code, a best seller in Manitoba, has attempted to explain the trail of secret messages and symbols concealed in the architecture of the building. Shades of Dan Brown!!!! Others believe such repetition is because ancient Romans felt the number 13 to be bad luck and hoped that honouring the number was the way to escape its curse. Most agree it is an intriguing but unsolvable mystery. (Another history lesson)
Guided tours of the building are available, however the tour costs just under $40.00 (and just over $50.00 if you want a copy of the book) and as I am trying to do this without spending any money, I just wandered on my own. I have put the book on my 'want to read' list.
The 'high' point of my self guided tour was, of course, the Golden Boy. Here comes the history lesson again!
The Golden Boy, a magnificently gilded 5.25M (17.2-foot) figure, is probably Manitoba's best known symbol. Embodying the spirit of enterprise and eternal youth, he is poised atop the dome of the building. He faces the north, with its mineral resources, fish, forest, furs, hydroelectric power and seaport, where his province's future lies.
The boy is a runner, like the messengers in Greek mythology. He carries a sheaf of golden grain in his left arm, while his right hand holds high a torch, calling youth to enter the race. The top of his torch is 77 metres (255 feet) above ground and before the more recent construction of high-rise buildings that today form Winnipeg's skyline, it was the highest point in the city.
The figure was sculpted by Charles Gardet of Paris, and cast in 1918 at the Barbidienne foundry in France. The foundry was partially destroyed by bombs during the First World War, but the Golden Boy emerged unharmed. The figure was rushed to a seaport and put aboard a French ship carrying wheat. Before the ship could put out to sea, it was commandeered for the transport of troops.
The boy lay in the hold of the ship, travelling many miles, constantly in danger. When the war was over, the figure arrived at Halifax and was shipped to Winnipeg and finally hoisted to the top of Manitoba's then-new Legislative Building.
The Golden Boy was in place for the official opening of the Legislative Building in 1920. Except for several months during 2002, when workers lowered the Golden Boy from the dome for repair and refurbishing, he has stood proud as a symbol for all Manitobans.
I even sumbled across a piece of Mexico in the building - an extraordinary artwork donated to the Province of Manitoba by the State of Jalisco!
Enough with the history lesson. By the way, I'm going to be honest - I plagerized some of the history part - I honestly didn't already know all of this - and the close up of the Golden Boy was taken in the Gift Shop (there are Gift Shops everywhere!) Apparently climbing to the roof top of the Legislative Building is frowned upon.