Theft and return of the Royal College Mace
When a thief burst into the Royal College headquarters in Ottawa, Ont., on a Friday night in 1991 and smashed the glass cabinet in the foyer, Custodian Mr. Meilleur thought that his wife had accidentally dropped something. He rushed to the stairwell just in time to see the thief retreat into the night with an iconic piece of Royal College regalia.
And just like that, the Royal College’s ceremonial mace was gone without a trace.
“We were in shock when we came to work on Monday morning,” said Receptionist Nicole Breton, who was working in the exams unit at the time. “We all speculated who could have taken it.”
Fast forward 28 years to September 17, 2019. Ms. Breton, who still remembers the day the mace was stolen, listened to a message on voicemail. A man claimed to have found the mace in his deceased father’s locked gun cabinet. Were we interested in having it back?
Ms. Breton immediately called Special Collections Administrator Peter Smith. They listened to the message twice in disbelief. Royal College Leadership was made aware of the situation that morning and later coordinated the successful return of the mace.
A Royal provenance
The Royal College Mace is made of sterling silver and covered with gold plate. It was created by House of Garrard who, at that time, was the United Kingdom’s official Crown Jeweller. It was given to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada by the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The idea of the gift came from Mr. A. Lawrence Abel, FRCS, of London. He was largely responsible for carrying out the project. Mr. Abel presented the mace to our Royal College at the convocation ceremony in Quebec City, Que., on January 16, 1964. To receive such a gift was a big honour.
When the stolen mace was returned, Mr. Smith verified its hallmarks of authenticity. These are small images or symbols imprinted into the metal that guarantee that the mace is genuine.
“These marks are typically only made by specialized craftspeople and are like a signature,” he says. “They’re a way of identifying the origins of the piece and certifying the purity of the metals.”
After almost three decades in obscurity, our mace has been found. It’s a bit battered and nicked, very tarnished and missing its eagle. We’ll likely never know the full story but there is a deep sense of gratitude that this priceless artifact is now home.