Popular Sparks Street sculpture damaged in alleged vandalism

The 'Joy' statue on Sparks Street is now missing one of its four figures, with only the severed hand of the fourth figure still attached. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)
The 'Joy' statue on Sparks Street is now missing one of its four figures, with only the severed hand of the fourth figure still attached. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)

Relatives of Bruce Garner say they're dismayed that someone allegedly vandalized the late artist's sculpture that has for decades entertained visitors on Ottawa's Sparks Street.

According to the Sparks Street Mall Authority, the sculpture titled "Joy" was vandalized sometime during the evening of Jan. 9, resulting in one of the four bronze human figures being severed from the statue.

Tamaya Garner, the widow of sculpture artist Bruce Garner, learned of the damage after a friend sent her a news article.

"I clicked on it and I went, 'Oh God'," she said. "Bruce always used to say that with every piece that he made he was leaving a little bit of himself behind. So to see something like that being destroyed is difficult."

Kevin McHale/Sparks Street BIA
Kevin McHale/Sparks Street BIA

The sculpture portrays four youthful figures standing in a circle facing each other while holding hands and gesturing upwards, seemingly celebrating a joyful moment.

It was unveiled on Sparks Street in 1970 thanks to a donation by E.R. (Bud) Fisher to the City of Ottawa and the mall authority, and has gone on to become very popular with residents and tourists alike.

Tamaya recalled how her husband, who died in 2012, would often talk about the impact he hoped the statue would have.

"He said, 'I intentionally put these people on Spark Street because I felt that Sparks Street was cold and sterile. So if I put four children dancing on Sparks Street then they would always have the human element there."

'It belongs there'

The full extent of the damage is still unknown but it's clear major work is needed to repair and reconnect the separated figure, which was found by Kevin McHale just barely attached to the sculpture on the morning of Jan. 10.

"Yeah that one hurt," said McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area (BIA) and mall authority. "This is actually my favourite piece on the street. This is the one everyone interacts with."

McHale removed the mostly dislodged figure, which he's now storing in his office until next steps can be determined.

"Our biggest priority is to make sure we can get the Joy statue repaired and reinstated as soon as possible," he said. "But it's not going to be a quick process."

Darlene Garner Kuehn, daughter of Bruce Garner, said it's been an emotional time since she learned of the vandalism.

"I was really sad because that's where my sisters and I go to remember him," she said. "He doesn't have a burial site so whenever I want to feel close to him it's usually at that statue."

Garner Kuehn adds that, while her father told her the figures weren't meant to represent his own children specifically, he sculpted it during a time when he was thinking a lot about them.

She also said she hopes the statue can be fully repaired and returned to its location on Sparks Street.

"It should be there. It belongs there."

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Police investigating

On Wednesday morning two Ottawa Police officers visited the damaged sculpture to speak with McHale and gather information about not only the damaged sculpture, but also holiday decorations McHale said were damaged during the same spree of vandalism.

He said he hopes surveillance video captured by building operators on Sparks Street might help police in their investigation.

Ottawa police confirmed to CBC they are investigating, but declined to provide any further update.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC