A sculpture of Chief Dan George has vanished from the Abbotsford middle school of its namesake and nobody at the school district has any idea what happened.
The Chilliwack artist who made the sculpture, Gerald Sandau, said because he had a personal attachment to the artwork, he decided to see how it was being displayed at Chief Dan George middle school on June 26 with his wife, Yvonne. They arrived to discover its glass encasement empty.
When he asked the front desk receptionists why it wasn’t on display, they told him it had disappeared.
“We were floored,” Sandau said. “It weighs 120 pounds. How can it just disappear?”
The sculpture, valued at $8,000, was originally commissioned by Fraser Lodge in Agassiz, and donated to the school in 2017. Sandau said he spent hundreds of hours carving the piece. When it was unveiled, a ceremony held to honour the work included local Indigenous chiefs, who told the students about their history’s stolen culture.
Const. Rob Dyck, a media relations officer for the Abbotsford Police Department, says the evidence police have to go on at this point is thin.
“Because it’s summertime, there’s not many people around so it’s hard to say what happened,” Dyck said. “There’s no camera, there’s no one working at the school, different sorts of people have keys to the door to come in and come out.”
Sandau’s wife, Yvonne, said that after the receptionists saw their reaction to the news, they started to backtrack.
“They said it was in storage,” she said.
A school district spokesperson said that, because the multipurpose room close to where the artwork was displayed was undergoing renovations, the sculpture was moved from its glass encasement and put into a secure storage area,
Sandau says the principal, Jasbir Singh, called them the following day to apologize and give an explanation.
According to Sandau, Singh said faculty had searched thoughout the school, storage and school grounds and could find no trace of it. Sandau said he asked Singh if a police report had been filed and was troubled by a response that suggested officials hadn’t done so yet.
“That’s a really good idea,” Sandau says he was told.
Police confirmed that a police report was filed July 4, a week after Sandau said he spoke with Singh.
The school district claims they had no idea that the sculpture was missing until Sandau showed up that day in June.
Yvonne says she finds the school conduct “very careless” considering the statue was a donation, the ceremony held to unveil it, and because the school board had insured the art for $8,000.
“I just don’t get it at all,” she said. “It just sounded very odd, very odd to me. I don’t understand why it wasn’t kept track of.”
The Sandau’s say they have tried contacting Singh since that initial phone conversation but have been unable to get a hold of him. The News’s request to speak to Singh went unanswered.
“There were so many more questions after we finished talking to him but at the time we were just so frustrated that the thing [was not] there,” Yvonne said.
More than anything, Sandau just wants the artwork back where it belongs. He says he spent five hours a day for a year of his life carving the sculpture out of a single piece of peryphlite granite.
“It needs to be out there. People need to know that it’s missing.”