The countdown is on for the Edmonton Oilers to move into their new downtown arena and while the brand new Rogers Place is set to shine, so is a treasured monument honouring the team’s greatest player and past glory.
“It was well-maintained and it had been washed a few times,” bronzesmith Don Begg said of the Wayne Gretzky statue that stood outside Rexall Place for more than a quarter of a century.
“It looked really good for being out there for 27 years.”
Working out of the Studio West shop in Cochrane, Alta., Begg and his colleagues have been hard at work to give the 430-kilogram bronze statue of The Great One its glow again.
“We washed it off and scrubbed it up really good and then we gave it several coats of wax to preserve it and made new templates and new bolts because we cut the other ones in half so we have to make new ones to reinstall it.”
Earlier this month, the tribute to No. 99 was removed from its perch at Northlands to much fanfare ahead of its move to the new Oilers arena. So when the team’s owners decided it was the perfect chance to give the statue some TLC, the choice for who should tend to it was crystal clear, at least to Begg.
“We probably had more experience than anybody so they asked us,” he said on Thursday. In fact, that experience is something nobody else could have. Begg worked on casting the statue before it was first erected in 1989 after it was sculpted by John Weaver.
“It was great to work on him and see how well he survived over this many years and so we’re looking forward to taking him back to his new location.”
Begg said he is still waiting to learn when it’s time to bring the icon back to Alberta’s capital but said No. 99 is ready to go.
He also said that an experience he had while removing the bronze statue earlier this month reminded him of how cherished his work is.
“When we went and took it down, there was people who had come from Chicago and Manitoba to see it but we had just taken it down and loaded it and hauled it away,” Begg recounts. “They didn’t get to see it but I had a fellow that tracked us down and he was so excited that he asked if he could have a look at it and he was all finished and ready to go and the poor man cried. He was so excited to see it.”
Watch below: Since 1989, a statue of Wayne Gretzky with the Stanley Cup over his head has stood in front of the home of the Edmonton Oilers. But now that the Oilers have a new home, so too will the statue. On Aug. 4, it was lifted from its famous perch. Kent Morrison reports.
-With files from The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland.