The innocuous statue of the explorer as a boy had been threatened with beheading

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Few people know it, but Vancouver has a statue of Christopher Columbus. It’s called The Dreamer, and depicts the great explorer as a child, sitting atop a cleat (boat tie) on a dock, gazing out to sea.

The statue has been at the Italian Gardens at Hastings Park for several years, tucked inside a small grassy area surrounded by a circular hedge. But this week, it vanished.

The statue seems fairly innocuous, but, in the current political climate, it’s come under attack from anti-colonial protesters. Several times it’s been splattered in red paint, to represent blood.

Recently, the Italian Cultural Centre received a message from somebody who called himself “Geronimo” threatening to behead it. So the City of Vancouver has taken it off public display.

“As an interim measure, the city has removed the statue from the Italian Gardens at Hastings Park and placed it in secure storage,” said a statement from the city. “The PNE board of directors, the Italian Cultural Centre and the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese have been informed of the removal. The act of removal is not a statement on the future of the statue but simply ensures its preservation while its future is considered.”

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The statue was a gift from Columbus’s birthplace, Genoa, Italy, to the City of Vancouver. It’s a bronze copy of a marble statue by Italian sculptor Giulio Monteverde.

According to Sotheby’s auction, “Columbus as a Boy was modelled in 1870 and received a gold medal at the Parma exhibition in the same year, resulting in the purchase of the full-size marble version by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.”

There are also marble copies in Museo delle Culture del Mondo in Genoa and the de Young and Legion of Honour museums in San Francisco.

A statue of young Christopher Columbus when it was at the Italian Gardens at Hastings Park.
A statue of young Christopher Columbus when it was at the Italian Gardens at Hastings Park.

Genoa gave the statue to Vancouver for Expo 86 but it appears it was never displayed there — it was unveiled at the entrance to the SkyTrain station at Commercial and Broadway on Aug. 11, 1986.

But it didn’t stay there long. John Teti of the Confratellanza (a local group that promotes Italian heritage) said that the provincial minister of transportation, Grace McCarthy, convinced the Italian community to make it the centrepiece of the Piazza Italia, a small park that was to be the entrance for a SkyTrain station on Clark Drive.

The statue was dedicated to the late Angelo Branca, a lawyer and judge who was the pillar of Vancouver’s Italian community for decades.

But the SkyTrain station wound up being built on Great Northern Way instead, and Piazza Italia languished.

The statue fell into disrepair and was sometimes covered in graffiti, which ticked off the late Herb Capozzi, the legendary Howe Street stock promoter. So Capozzi hatched a plan to “liberate” it.

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One night Teti got a call from Capozzi asking him to show up at the Piazza Italia with some cognac and glasses.

“I drive up there with my cognac and there’s a flatbed truck with a crane on it and a crew of four or five guys dismantling the statue,” Teti recalls. “ ‘What’s going on Herb?’ ‘We’re liberating the statue.’ I said, ‘Really.’ He said, ‘Pour the cognac.’ He makes a toast to the liberation of the Angelo Branca statue, and the truck drives away with the statue.”

Teti approached the Vancouver park board about putting it into the Italian Gardens at Hastings Park, which was being built at the time. But the park board “wanted nothing to do with it,” because the statue had been reported stolen.

“Finally, the park board said, ‘Here’s the deal,’ ” said Teti. “ ‘We’re going to build a pedestal in the park, and if something miraculously appears there, we’ll do our best to look after it. But we don’t want anything to do with the installation of a statue there.’ ”

Capozzi had taken the statue to be restored in Burnaby, and phoned Teti to pick it up, and pay the $2,000 bill. A crew transported it to the Italian Gardens, where it’s been for a decade.

Now it’s in a city storage facility, probably looking for a new home.

jmackie@postmedia.com

Vancouver Sun story about the unveiling of the Columbus statue on Aug. 12, 1986.
Vancouver Sun story about the unveiling of the Columbus statue on Aug. 12, 1986.

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