When the hundreds of white balloons were released at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at the end of Ottawa's Sparks Street pedestrian mall, watched by local minor hockey players and the parents, grandparents, fans, dignitaries and the curious who had gathered, a glittering stainless steel monument to the Stanley Cup was exposed to glisten with a sparkle, wet in the floodlights.
From an idea that took shape in 2009 to the monument's unveiling Saturday, Lord Stanley of Preston's 1892 gift to Canada, and by extension to hockey and the NHL, is celebrated with a magnificent monument in downtown Ottawa, the original home of the most famous trophy in the game.
Supporters of the project include the NHL, the Government of Canada, the Ottawa Senators and the city of Ottawa itself, who all were represented at the unveiling. This monument, the idea of late hockey historian Paul Kitchen and pushed along by George Hunter, president of Lord Stanley's Memorial Monument Inc., a not-for-profit group that brought the project to fruition, celebrates the Stanley Cup just down the road from Canada's Parliament Buildings.
From behind his legendary mustache, 1989 Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald was beaming in the rain.
"I don't think I could lift this one over my head," McDonald said with a laugh. "But it is so fitting. This monument fits not only the occasion but it speaks volumes about the game, all its curves. You could bring a school field trip here and the kids can learn so much about the history of the game … all the teams that have won during the past 125 years, and where it all started."
The hulking yet graceful monument stands at the busy intersection at the east end of Sparks Street, where it meets Elgin Street, at the foot of the historic Canada Post building and across the street from Canada's National War Memorial.
Video: Stanley Cup monument unveiled in downtown Ottawa
"I give George Hunter and the committee all kinds of credit for making this come to light," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who was first approached about this monument some six years ago. "No project of this scope is very easy. But they were committed to doing it and they did everything necessary to get it done. We were happy to support it and to see it come to fruition is pretty special. It was a long time in the making. It's reflective of a very special trophy, and it's bigger than the trophy, a symbol of what it means to play the sport and to play the sport at the highest level."
Seated in the front row Saturday were Hall of Famers Brian O'Neill and Scotty Morrison, who were inducted as builders and who have been Stanley Cup trustees since 1988 and 2002, respectively.
The unveiling was one more event during a remarkable 2017 in this national capital city. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Canada's birth, the 125th anniversary of the creation of the Stanley Cup, the 100th anniversary of the NHL and 25 years since the Senators joined the League. On Dec. 16, Ottawa will play host to the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic, an outdoor game at Lansdowne Park between the Senators and Montreal Canadiens.
The monument's design group was chosen after a national competition, the winning team of Covit/Nguyen/NORR of Montreal announced in November 2016.
The winning design of artist Linda Covit, organizers said in a release, "was inspired by the historic, simple silver bowl donated by Lord Stanley." It is constructed of silvered stainless steel bands, gently fanned apart to invite visitors to walk through the bands with a view, facing east, of the National War Memorial.
A white paved hockey rink forms the monument's base, featuring embedded stainless steel lines suggesting skate marks and 36 granite pucks engraved with the names of Stanley Cup-winning teams from 1893 to 2017. The monument is completed with a black granite bench, shaped like a puck.
Ground was broken for this monument a little more than seven months ago on a windy, cold March 18, not with a traditional shovel stuck into the ground but with a ceremonial face-off between two NHL legends. Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon posed for photographers, their face-off officiated by then-governor general David Johnston and dignitaries from different levels of government.
The face-off was part of the Stanley Cup's 125th anniversary Ottawa homecoming, almost across the street from where the trophy was conceived; a letter written by Lord Stanley speaking of its creation was read at a dinner at what was the Russell House Hotel on March 18, 1892.
Mahovlich and Keon were in town in March as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations, invited with fellow Hall of Famers Mike Bossy, Paul Coffey, Bernie Parent and Bryan Trottier to Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada's governor general, with two special sterling guests.
Present that day, and for the groundbreaking, were the familiar Stanley Cup and the original 1892 silver bowl that had been commissioned by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada's sixth governor general.
The original Stanley Cup, a simple, priceless bowl, was borrowed for the Ottawa celebration in March from the vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where it is displayed under the gaze of Lord Stanley's portrait.
"The artistic touches that Linda was able to incorporate in the monument make it really special," Deputy Commissioner Daly said Saturday. "It's not just a replica of the bowl of the Stanley Cup. It's something that's deeper and has more meaning and I hope that the people of Ottawa, and everyone who visits Ottawa, will appreciate it."
For more on the monument, visit lordstanleysgift.com.
Balloon-release unveiling photo: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC