Ottawa artist refurbishes newspaper box flung from bridge onto frozen canal

The Mainstreeter newspaper box lying face-down and broken on the frozen surface of the canal. (Submitted by Alicia Beazley - image credit)
The Mainstreeter newspaper box lying face-down and broken on the frozen surface of the canal. (Submitted by Alicia Beazley - image credit)

On the spot near Ottawa's Flora Footbridge where a brightly-painted newspaper box normally stands, Tim Hunt saw only empty space.

As the newspaper's "resident sketch artist," Hunt had been asked by the paper years before to paint a mural on one of its newly-acquired boxes. Struck by that same box's sudden disappearance, he immediately called the editor-in-chief.

Over the phone, Hunt learned that sometime during the evening of Dec. 22, the newspaper box had been torn from its home, heaved to the centre of the Flora Footbridge and flung onto the frozen surface of the canal below.

"I guess somebody wanted to see what would happen when it fell," he said.

What happened, Hunt said, was significant damage to its metal sides. Its painted mural was dented and flaking. Its plexiglass door was broken, the hinges ajar.

Submitted by Alicia Beazley
Submitted by Alicia Beazley

Strewn next to the box on the ice's pockmarked surface lay copies of the Mainstreeter, a hyperlocal community newspaper serving the neighbourhood of Old Ottawa East.

Learning about the damage, Hunt volunteered to restore the box — and do it before the newspaper's next issue hit the press.

'The rescue effort'

Lorne Abugov, editor-in-chief of the Mainstreeter, said his phone and email started "lighting up" shortly after the box was found missing.

"It's kind of a fixture," he said. "By that point, others had already engaged, I guess, in what we'll call the rescue effort."

Shortly after the box was spotted, local resident and Mainstreeter contributor John Dance descended onto the canal on a step ladder.

"John, you know, took some risk heading over to the box," Abugov said. "It wasn't an altogether safe thing to do."

Submitted by Alicia Beazley
Submitted by Alicia Beazley

Another three residents "sprung into action," according to Abugov, and helped Dance lug the box back up the ladder and out of the canal.

Crumpled to the point it couldn't stand upright, the box was "not really capable of housing newspapers," Abugov said.

Rather than return it to its normal spot, neighbours distributed the remains in pieces — the broken door to one house, the metal body to another.

'I wanted to fix it up'

As the original painter, and an experienced metalworker, Hunt took over the restoration.

"Plus, I felt a little proprietary about the box," he said. "I wanted to fix it up to its original state."

Hunt wrangled the pieces, pounded out the dents, cut a new plexiglass door and repainted the exterior.

The Mainstreeter's next issue was set to be published on February 9, and Hunt had the box back in place, fully refurbished, two days before his deadline.

Ben Andrews/CBC News
Ben Andrews/CBC News

But Hunt's box hadn't been the first to suffer an "incident," Abugov said.

Not first 'incident' for Mainstreeter

About two years ago, the Mainstreeter acquired five boxes from a Carleton Place newspaper that was going out of business. At the time, it commissioned five local artists to paint one box each with a unique design showcasing an aspect of the neighbourhood.

Within six months, one placed near the Lees Avenue transit station was stolen — and never found.

Just four, including Hunt's newly refurbished box near the Flora Footbridge, remain.

"It feels good to see it back there," he said. "And it made me feel really good that, you know, a bunch of people chipped in to get it out of the canal."

Ben Andrews/CBC News
Ben Andrews/CBC News