Paddlers locate statue of giant hand that was carried away by swollen river

A statue of a hand that disappeared after it washed off the bank of a swollen river in Winnipeg earlier this week has been rescued, thanks to a group of canoeists and kayakers who set out Saturday to find it.

Charles Burchill, an avid Winnipeg paddler, said word got out that the fibreglass hand which stands taller than a person, was no longer on the bank of the Seine River in Winnipeg.

Paddlers said the statue has been on the bank not far from the city’s Perimeter Highway for more than a decade on the property of a museum worker who saved the former exhibit from the garbage.

“I think it’s one of those things that everybody, when they paddle down that end of the river, looks for. It’s a landmark that’s kind of fun to see on the shore,” Burchill said in a phone interview Saturday.

Flood watches and advisories have been in effect in Manitoba for a couple of weeks, although the spot where the statue sits is downstream from where Seine River passes through a channel underneath the Red River Floodway. When flows get strong on the Seine, much of the excess water gets channelled off into the floodway, regulating the flow further downstream.

Still, Burchill said the river had been higher than usual earlier this week, likely tipping the hand over and carrying it off. How far it had gone was unknown, he said.

On Saturday morning, two canoes and two people on open-topped kayaks launched on the Seine River to look for it. Burchill said they got about 600 metres downstream, where they spotted the giant hand floating against a downed tree.

“The hand was right on top of the surface, so it was quite easy to spot, but we did need to go up around a couple of corners, so you wouldn’t have been able to see it from normal walking paths or from the small number of houses that are along the shore,” Burchill said.

Initially, the paddlers thought they would be able to pull the hand to shore and transport it overland, or maybe hoist it atop one of their canoes and carry it back to its home. But Burchill said they soon discovered it weighed at least a couple of hundred pounds.

So instead, he said they rigged up ropes so they could tow it between two canoes in a way that it wouldn’t get damaged by bumping against the canoes or trees.

It took about an hour of paddling upstream, but they finally reached their destination, where the statue’s owner greeted them and they hauled it back to its normal display position.

“I think right after we left there was a group of people — I’m hoping — walking the Seine River and I think one of their hopes was to see the hand,” Burchill said.

“So we kind of timed it just right, to get it back before anybody came looking.”

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