The short and eventful life of the first Royal Bust

By Janis Ringuette

She survived kidnapping and the loss of two noses, but not decapitation. After her head was knocked off and thrown into the Inner Harbour in December, 1960, the concrete bust of Queen Elizabeth II was removed from Beacon Hill Park. The statue lasted one drama-filled year.

The bust was created to commemorate the June, 1959 royal visit. The area’s four municipalities agreed to share costs of the event on a per capita basis, including local sculptor Peggy Walton Packard’s modest fee of $350.

Peggy Packard and original Queen's Bust

By the time the concrete statue was completed six months later, Esquimalt and Oak Bay didn’t want to pay their share. The statue price had escalated to $1,000, including landscaping. Money wasn’t the only complaint. Many thought concrete was too easily damaged. Not everyone liked the way the 750 pound statue looked, either. It was described as “a concrete head mounted on a seven-foot pedestal."

The City of Victoria took delivery of the statue in January, 1960, but did not put it on public display. “It has been stored ignominiously at the Garbally public works yard,” the Victoria Daily Colonist reported. Under heavy media pressure, officials moved the statue to the lobby of City Hall.

When the city delayed paying Packard her commission, the Victoria Daily Times launched a tongue-in-cheek “Pennies for Peggy” campaign with the headlines: “If the City won’t pay her, let us do it” and “Make the Pennies Pour for Peggy.” Donated pennies would be pushed to City Hall in a wheelbarrow. City officials were not amused. Acting Mayor Mooney quickly announced Packard could pick up her cheque on Friday, February 19, but the penny campaign continued with a new headline: “Peggy Bank Goes For Landscaping.”

The statue was stolen from City Hall Thursday evening. Nine pennies were left in the statue’s place.

A team effort was needed to carry the 750 pound, one-piece, seven-foot statue from the front hall, along the south corridor and out the unlocked Pandora Avenue door. The kidnapping was apparently a university prank.

Packard visited the scene of the crime the next morning. “This is the crowning touch,” she said, wiping away tears of laughter. “Now we’ll get the landscaping and no queen. I think it’s very funny.”

Acting Mayor Mooney wasn’t laughing. He blamed the Times “continuous sniping.” Ald. Arthur Dowell wasn’t laughing either. He called the kidnapping “a college prank, a mockery, a tragedy and an insult to the Queen.”

The statue was recovered in Esquimalt three days later, uninjured except for a shallow groove chipped out of one shoulder. Worried city officials moved it into a private office. “The bust of Queen Elizabeth is under lock and key...surrounded by a cloak of security that would do credit to the wildest of TV spy thrillers,” the Daily Colonist reported. “City hall staff members and police received orders not to talk to anyone about the bust--especially not to reporters.”

Queen's original concrete bust Queen view of Robbie Burns

On Monday, March 21, 1960, the statue was installed “quietly and without ceremony” on a concrete semi-circle in front of a 7.6 metre (25 foot) wall with stone facing constructed in Beacon Hill Park. According to a Daily Times report, it was an area “on which attractive beds could be laid out, with a pleasant, sloping background of natural pines.”

That description left out a key detail. The bust was placed at the back of a parking lot. The Queen stood at the south edge of the Park’s main parking lot on Circle Drive with the Burns Monument distantly visible to the north. Queen Elizabeth and Robbie Burns were to gaze forever at one another over parked cars and passing Circle Drive traffic. The photo on the right shows the Queen’s view of the Burns Monument (the white pedestal in the background).

In less than a month, the Daily Times reported: “A piece of concrete about two inches long, one and a half inches wide was chipped out of the right nostril.” The Queen’s cheek and neck were chipped next, then the nose. “Final mortification was the disappearance of the head, later recovered from the bottom of the Inner Harbour.”

Queen's bronze bust at Queen's Lake

The Daily Times commissioned a replacement bust made of bronze. Ottawa resident Arnold Price, the only Canadian sculptor with experience in bronze, used the original mold created by Peggy Packard. The completed bust, anchored at the southeast corner of Queen’s Lake on Circle Drive, was formally presented to the city by publisher Stuart Keate on August 5, 1962.

The newspaper glowingly described the “gold-toned” bust mounted on a “white stone plinth over a bed of Scottish heather and evergreen shrubs and clumps of fragrant lavender. Behind was a majestic weeping willow, an ornamental pond and a rich profusion of roses. In the vicinity are a cricket pitch and the World’s Tallest Totem Pole...” The location was definitely superior to the parking lot.

Peggy Packard cleaning the Queen's Bust

The second bust has enjoyed a quiet life, though it was knocked flat in August, 1965. Reached by phone recently, sculptor Peggy Packard recalled another incident: “An X was scratched on the Queen’s forehead, perhaps with a diamond ring. It is hard to scratch bronze. I had to do some covering up on that. You can still see it if you look closely.” This 1994 photo shows Packard cleaning the bronze bust before the Queen arrived to open the Commonwealth Games.

Remembering the pranks and vandalism of the 1960s, Packard said, “It was awful. It seemed the university students were attacking the Queen and indirectly attacking me, too.” She never accepted another public art commission. Even now, she worries about drawing attention to the bust.

Parking lot site of the Queen's Bust

The rock wall constructed for the concrete bust remains in the parking lot west of the petting farm. The statue’s half-circle base is now a neglected planter, although a beautiful black marble mounted on it still proclaims: “Queen Elizabeth II. To Commemorate Royal Visit July 17, 1959.”

For 43 years, the handsome bronze bust of Queen Elizabeth II has stood next to Queen’s Lake, picturesquely framed by shrubs. The only hint of past indignities is the faint X visible on her forehead.