Winnipeg Arena’s famed Queen Elizabeth II portrait returning to public view

The massive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, that once smiled down on fans and players in the old Winnipeg Arena, will soon once again be out for the public to see.

Ron D’Errico, the owner of the portrait – which spans five-by-seven metres – said he had been planning for a while to unveil it in Winnipeg again, adding the plan is to put it up in the new hangar for his company Impact Security Group.

“We always had a plan to put the Queen up in there and I was talking to (Coun). Shawn Nason from Transcona…we had plans to do an unveiling of sorts with the community and introduce herself into the community,” said D’Errico.

When he heard the news of the Queen’s passing at 96 years old on Thursday, he said he was shocked, like most others were.

“Processing would be the best description I can emphasize with the mood. You know what, it was surreal. This is someone that we’ve grown (up with) for many decades and we accepted that this was part of our monarchy and society. This person was in a position where she was a world figurehead and we just didn’t know life differently.”

Reflecting on the life of the Queen and the portrait that hung in the rafters of the old arena, D’Errico said he thinks of a simpler time, a time before social media and such a fast pace life.

“Families would go in unison and participate in hockey games, fathers would bring their sons to watch the Winnipeg Jets…when you looked up in the rafters at a moment’s glance, you would see the Queen smiling upon you and you were mesmerized by that smile because it was larger than life.”

The painting was commissioned in 1979 by Manitoba Lt. Gov. Bud Jobin and it was painted by Gilbert Burch.

Once the Jets left town in 1996, the portrait stayed in the arena for another three years until it was removed in 1999.

It eventually made its way to Whitby, Ont. and was stored away in a warehouse.

Then a local businessman by the name of Jamie Boychuk bought the portrait in 2015 and D’Errico said Boychuck gifted it to him because they were friends.

“We decided that the best course of avenue would be to curate it and hold it for Winnipeg when the need presented itself.”

He said Boychuk has since moved to Florida and D’Errico vowed to keep the painting safe and pass it on to the next generation.

“Basically, what I’ve done, I’ve included it in my estate planning that if something happens to myself, I will pass it on to another Winnipegger, another known Winnipegger by the name of Brent Fitz.”

Fitz, who D’Errico said he grew up with, has been the drummer for Slash, Gene Simmons and other rock groups throughout his musical career.

D’Errico said he has had private offers to purchase the painting, but he said it is something that belongs to Winnipeg.

“I personally do not see any need for this to be sold to private groups or private companies. I even recognize that myself, I shouldn’t be even holding this in my possession. I’m curating it, protecting it. And you know, it belongs to the people of Winnipeg.”

He added that he would one day like to see it somewhere within Canada Life Centre, noting that is where the painting truly belongs.

In the meantime, he said he plans to have the painting up in his company’s hangar by the end of the month, but it could make an appearance sooner.

D’Errico said he has been talking with a shopping centre to display it temporarily to give people the chance to mourn following the Queen’s death.

– With files from CTV News’ Josh Crabb

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