High atop the Manitoba Legislative Building, 250 feet above ground, the statue called “Eternal Youth and the Spirit of Enterprise” (or as it as come to be affectionately known by Manitobans, the “Golden Boy”), stands proudly facing north. A symbol so important and full of meaning for our province’s past, present and future, on November 21, 2019, the statue marked 100 years of looking down upon us, a witness to many of the most important events in Manitoba history.
As part of the construction of Manitoba’s third Legislative Building, which started in 1913, the Manitoba Government commissioned French sculptor Georges Gardet to create a set of five bronze statues that would be featured prominently in and on the building. The most notable of these statues, the Golden Boy, was created with the intent of resting in a place of honour at the very peak of the building which would become the centre of the province’s political life. During World War I the statue was cast in bronze in a French foundry and then placed in a ship’s hold for transport to Canada. However, it took a year of travel to make its way to North America; the ship was commandeered to transport Allied troops and supplies across the Atlantic Ocean and within the Mediterranean Sea, its precious cargo used as ballast. Despite the dangerous missions, both the ship and the Golden Boy made it at last to New York. The statue was then shipped by train to Winnipeg and placed atop the Legislative Building on November 21, 1919. With this installation, the tip of its torch was the tallest point in Winnipeg in 1919.
The Golden Boy is modeled after the Roman messenger god Mercury, also known as Hermes in Greek mythology. On his left arm, he carries a sheaf of wheat representing the fruits of labour and one of Manitoba’s main agricultural resources, while the torch in his right hand represents a call to youth to join his eternal pursuit of a more prosperous future.
The bronze statue was painted gold in 1948 and later gilded with 23.5 karat gold leaf in 1951. A lamp was also installed in the Golden Boy’s torch in 1966. This light shone for the first time on December 31 of the same year as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967.
In 2002, the statue was lowered from the top of the building, having spent almost 83 years there, to be restored and gilded once again. The previous gold had worn off over the decades due to erosion, and rust had accumulated inside the statue. The rust threatened the stability of the central post supporting the statue, a hazard corrected by the restoration, which included the replacement of the iron supports.
The restoration work was a carried out while the statue was on display at the Manitoba Museum, as well as at the Forks National Historic Site, where over 114,000 people came to see it. On September 5, 2002, the Golden Boy returned to his place on top of the Legislative Building, although the torch is no longer lit. The electric wiring turned out to be one of the causes of the rust that made the restoration necessary. However, the statue is not in the dark at night; now the entire tower and dome are illuminated through modern lighting on the building’s roof. On October 8, 2002, Queen Elizabeth II flipped the switch on the new lights, illuminating the Golden Boy for generations to come.