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Largest known portrait of Queen may return to Winnipeg along with NHL team

WINNIPEG - She was evicted from her lofty home more than a decade ago.

Since then, she has been homeless, searching for a suitable place that could house her large frame and equally dominating presence.

Now, it seems she may have found one. The Winnipeg Jets hockey team may not be the only ones returning to the Manitoba capital. The largest known portrait of the Queen, which hung from the rafters in the Winnipeg Arena for 20 years, may also be coming home.

"I've had a conversation today which is very exciting and points to that but I can't say anything yet," said Anya Wilson, the current custodian of the portrait. "It's just an inquiry but, if it develops, I think everyone in Winnipeg will be very happy."

The iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was unveiled in 1979 at the Winnipeg Arena, just before the NHL Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers 8-3.

It was taken down in 1999 and has since been housed in a warehouse in Whitby, Ont.

But 12 years later, Wilson said she still gets emails and phone calls from Winnipeggers about the portrait.

"This portrait was a part of their lives for many years," she said. "I have no doubt that it should come home."

Finding the portrait a new home has been a struggle, given the portrait is five metres by seven metres, Wilson said. Galleries couldn't hang it and few places could support its weight, she said.

"I think it would bring many ceilings down," Wilson said. "When it was at the Jets' stadium, it was deadbolted to the wall. You can't do that too many times to a portrait so it can't be a travelling exhibit."

The painting was done by billboard artist Gilbert Burch, who worked on it for 200 hours. It was Burch's second attempt at capturing the Queen's likeness since, in the first one, "her face wasn't right," Wilson said.

"It is an excellent painting and there is a very warm energy that comes from it," Wilson said. "It's affected many people's lives. It was big enough that they were able to see it in the seats of the stadium. It is iconic. It would be so good if she were able to return to her roots."

Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment are currently in talks to buy the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team and move it to the Manitoba capital. While many say it is a done deal, there has been no formal announcement.

The city lost its beloved Jets in 1996 when they moved to Phoenix because of financial problems. Since then, Winnipeg has built a new arena—the MTS Centre—and has argued it can host an NHL franchise again.

It may even be fit for a Queen.

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