By Joe Howell
One fine morning in 2017, Ray deSouza received an unexpected request from Buckingham Palace. DeSouza, bursar and CAO of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, was sitting in his office overlooking the bucolic campus when the phone rang. On the other end was a British official, inquiring about a rare statue of a young Queen Victoria supposedly in Vic U’s possession.
“The gentleman was convinced that somewhere in some dark corner of our campus lay a statue I had never seen before,” recalls deSouza. He told the official that in the nearly eight years he’d been here he’d never come across such a sculpture, but the Briton was insistent: “There must be a statue of Queen Victoria there,” he said in a commanding tone. “Might it have been removed? Why don’t you make some enquiries, and I will call you back at this time tomorrow.”
The phone went dead without a goodbye. DeSouza knew of other precious artifacts from the Queen housed at Vic U—including her childhood cup and the royal standard hanging in Burwash Hall that was once draped over her coffin—but he wasn’t aware of the statue. Though certain he would have seen the sculpture on one of his countless walks, deSouza set out for another careful stroll. Sure enough, there was no queen to be seen.
At precisely the same time the following day, the man from England—a retired general, it turned out—called back. “The records at the Crown Assets Office, Antiquities Department located in the Royal Court offices clearly say that the statue is located at Victoria University.” The general exhorted deSouza to keep looking, and a frantic search soon began.
“I scoured the attic above Old Vic with David Prediger, our dearly departed former director of Physical Plant,” remembers deSouza. “Over two days we walked the campus, looking at every building and braving every attic and basement storage room for anything that could hide our elusive statue. Nothing.”
As they sat in defeat, Prediger remembered a Grounds employee who had retired 20 years prior. Reaching him by phone, they finally got the answers they sought: “There is a statue; I used to wash her down with soap and water every year! She is above the portico at the front entrance to the Birge-Carnegie Library.”
Prediger and deSouza sprinted to the entrance and scanned the facade. There was no statue. And then Prediger had another bright idea: perhaps she was covered by the thick ivy growing profusely across both Birge-Carnegie and Emmanuel—after all, what is a university without ivy growing on its buildings?
The next day, the pair ordered a cherry picker to investigate. DeSouza waited anxiously as it rose above the portico, just below the roof line. One strand at a time, the thick greenery was pulled back. After three vigorous tugs, huge boughs of ivy fell to the ground. Suddenly, there she was—a gleaming white statue of a young Queen Victoria! “We had found her, and she was lovely.”
Maintaining the special beauty of our campus is possible through philanthropy. To support our Defy Gravity: The campaign for Victoria University, visit Defy Gravity at Vic.