National Treasure #24: Michael Ibsen


Oh, just the Canadian who’s the 17th-generation nephew of Richard III, who died at Bosworth Field on this day in 1485.

I wrote about Richard III five years ago, and I admit that today’s entry is a bit of a cheat. I wanted to write about Richard for today, and Michael Ibsen–an expatriate Canadian cabinetmaker–gave me the angle I needed.

And yet, the more I read about Michael, the better I like him. These days I’m hard pressed to say that about most people who are in the news, but take a look at this . . .

Throughout the Richard saga, Michael Ibsen has calmly borne the lion’s share of media interest from around the world, though he doesn’t enjoy being the centre of attention. In Leicester, people regularly come up to him, asking to shake his hand. The cabinetmaker has found the focus “both wonderful and slightly terrifying.” Early on, however, he decided to accept his public role. “I thought, who am I to be a curmudgeon and sit in a dark room and not say anything to anybody about it?” he says. – Maclean’s

He doesn’t enjoy being the centre of attention? He doesn’t think he’s entitled to be a curmudgeon?

And this . . .

“I’m not producing some sort of woodworking masterpiece, as much as I might be capable of it. Because I don’t think it’s about me,” the cabinetmaker explains. “It’s about Richard.” He’d decided early on the type of timber: “It really had to be English oak. Traditionally, oak would have been used for a high-status funeral if there was a coffin.” The internal framework is of yew, used for English longbows and often found in rural churchyards. “Those are the sorts of things that people can relate to, as opposed to some cabinetmaking bit of genius,” Ibsen says. – Maclean’s

So there you are. A regular guy who discovered in his fifties that he was one of only four people alive today who share Richard III’s mitochondrial DNA. And a cabinetmaker who made a meaningful yet modest coffin for his forebear, because “I don’t think it’s about me.”

This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Through Canada and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.