St. Albert residents were shocked Tuesday to learn that a large bronze statue of Saint Albert the Great had been stolen from downtown.
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron posted a message to Facebook on March 14, 2023, saying that the statue of Saint Albert the Great had been stolen from its plinth on Perron Street.
Created by St. Albert artist Al Henderson and unveiled on Nov. 29, 2001, the four-foot-tall, 150 pound bronze statue had stood at the end of Founder’s Court on Perron Street for nearly 22 years before it was reported as stolen to St. Albert RCMP at around 11 a.m. March 14.
In an email, City of St. Albert spokesperson Cory Sinclair said administration was confident that the statue was in fact stolen and had not been removed for maintenance. The statue was insured for $17,000.
In her Facebook post, Heron wrote that she was “absolutely f@&king livid” over the theft and urged residents to contact the RCMP if they had any information on it.
“St. Albert is branded the botanical arts city,” she said in an interview, and takes pride in its focus on art.
Heron characterized this theft as an outright rejection of St. Albert’s identity.
“This theft is not just a theft of a statue from the City of St. Albert. It’s a theft from every single resident in the city.”
The statue itself depicted a 15-year old boy dressed in a 12th century tunic holding an injured bird, intended to portray Albertus Magnus (AKA Saint Albert the Great, the patron saint of scientists) as a young man. It was commissioned from Henderson by the St. Albert 2000 Steering Committee, Profiles Visual Arts Society and the St. Albert Continuous Learning Society in 2001. It was secured to a concrete plinth with four bolts.
St. Albert is named after the patron saint of its founder, Father Albert Lacombe. When commissioned to craft this statue, Henderson was one of many city residents who believed Lacombe’s patron saint to be Saint Albert the Great — the result of an erroneous entry in the city’s official history book, The Black Robe’s Vision. Official documents found by church archivists suggest that Lacombe’s patron saint, and this city’s namesake, was almost certainly Saint Albert of Louvain, a cardinal assassinated during a political dispute in 1192.
Henderson said he learned of the theft when The Gazette told him about it Tuesday. He said it was the first time one of his monuments had been stolen.
“It’s like someone stealing a light pole. I’m sure it happens, but it’s unusual.”
Staff at Nor-Alta Environmental Consulting Services (located two metres northwest of the statue) were shocked and dismayed when informed by the Gazette of the theft, with many saying they had not noticed the statue was missing.
Employee Buddy Morris said he noticed the statue was gone when he walked by it at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, but thought it had been removed for maintenance. He last recalled seeing it the previous Friday.
Employee Scott Pollard said the statue was a tourist attraction, and that Nor-Alta staff would often past it while going for lunch.
“It’s something you’d see on The Simpsons,” he said of the theft, referring to the popular cartoon show.
“To see something like that taken from the city is quite devastating.
The Gazette examined the scene of the crime Tuesday.
There were no obvious scratches or dings around where the four bolts once secured the statue to the plinth. The two holes facing Perron Street were empty apart from fresh-fallen snow — likely from the previous evening’s snowfall — and still had their screw threads intact. The holes facing St. Albert Place contained flat, smooth metal posts which were presumably the cut-off ends of bolts.
There was fresh-fallen snow in the open hole in the plinth where the statue once stood. Visible on top of the snow was a foil twist-apart candy wrapper. Henderson said there should have been a metal or plastic time capsule in this hole, but The Gazette saw no evidence of it. The statue’s area did not appear to be under video surveillance.
In an email, Cst. MJ Burroughs of the St. Albert RCMP said police learned of the theft Tuesday and had just opened their investigation into it.
Henderson said the statue could be repaired if found but would otherwise have to be remade from scratch, as he no longer had the moulds for it. The time capsule, though, was irreplaceable.
“How do you replace something that was put in there at a (specific) time?” he said.
“It has a sacred value.”
Sinclair said some items were recovered from the base of the sculpture that may have been part of the time capsule. Administration was reviewing its records to confirm if this was the case.
This is the second time in three years that a public monument has been stolen in St. Albert. A large bronze plow was stolen from Ted Hole Park in October 2021. Heron said the city considered putting tracking devices on its monuments following that theft, but deemed them impractical as those devices would have to be somehow embedded into those art works.
Anyone with information on this crime should call St. Albert RCMP at 780-458-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.