The St. Albert Botanic Park’s birdhouse is back – no questions asked, but with its return, there are nothing but questions.
The birdhouse was stolen from its pedestal at the park sometime between July 9 and 12. A story was written in the Gazette about the incident and readers were asked to contact the RCMP if they knew anything about the loss. Two weeks ago an unnamed woman phoned the RCMP saying she knew where the little house was. The RCMP picked up the house and returned it to the park.
“We know it was found in a residential location near the park. But why was it taken there and where was it hidden? Was it under a bunch of leaves and that’s why it was just found now when someone tried to pick up the leaves?” asked park president Joan Johnson, as she and park founder John Beedle speculated about how the house was taken from its perch.
“It was probably about 10 feet off the ground,” said John Beedle. “It could have been kids but it could also have been adults who took it, because either they had something to climb on or someone stood on someone else’s shoulders to get it down.”
With his own hands up in the air, Beedle, 89, swayed and wobbled as if he were standing on those thieving shoulders. He demonstrated the difficulty of the task the vandals would have faced as they tried to lift the house down from over their heads.
“Imagine trying to lift it down. The thing weighs 20 pounds,” he said.
In 2012 Beedle had the idea to put the birdhouse up on the spot where the old Atkinson-family house was located. Tom and Florence Atkinson lived on the property from 1917 to 1961 and the birdhouse, built by volunteer Kevin Brenneis was modelled from old family photographs. Just like the original homestead house, it is complete with a red roof, cream-coloured siding and a veranda. The original home had two bedrooms upstairs and the upper storey of the birdhouse has room for two chickadee families. The birds could enter their 18-by-16-inch abode via a hole that looks like a window.
As artworks go, the birdhouse didn’t have a great deal of material value, but it had great sentimental worth.
“As soon as it went missing people who walk through the park noticed and asked, ‘Where is the house?’ I was unhappy for the volunteers who work in the park and enjoyed it. It was there for park visitors and for the volunteers and something was missing from our park, despite all the efforts of so many people to put something nice there,” Johnson said.
Beedle felt the loss of the birdhouse in a tangible way. He visited with the Atkinson sisters, who were at the time close to 90 years old, before it was built. He listened to their stories about canoeing across the river to visit the boys on the other side. He heard how they walked to school on Mission Hill.
In 2012, when it was installed near the old location, Beedle was 86 years old, but he climbed up on a ladder to get it perfectly in place.
“It was there to honour our past. It was just another way to show what it was like in St. Albert before. When it went missing I was sad and I was mad. The good news is, it’s back now and it’s not damaged, but next time I put it up, I’ll make sure it is secured in a way that won’t be so easy for anyone to take down,” Beedle said.
The birdhouse will be put back in its original location next spring.