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THE SCOOP | B.C. Musician’s Quick Thinking Leads Him To Recover Stolen Italian Violin

By Anya Wassenberg on August 15, 2023

L-R: Musician Mitch Howanyk (Photo: Landon Hemmes); Public domain image
L-R: Musician Mitch Howanyk (Photo: Landon Hemmes); Public domain image

It’s every musician’s nightmare — packing up after a gig, only to find that your instrument or gear has been stolen. That’s what happened to Mitch Howanyk in downtown Kelowna last week.

Mitchell plays violin and sings with a well known B.C. based band called Kentucky Eileen. On the evening of August 2, he was wrapping up a gig in Kelowna. His vehicle was parked in a lane, and it is believed that a thief slipped his violin and case out of his car unnoticed as he was either loading up or unloading other gear. There was no surveillance footage available of the area where it occurred off Wilson Avenue in Kelowna.

Mitch found it missing, to his horror, the next day while getting ready for another gig. The violin is Italian made, and said to date from the 1840s. It features a one-piece back, and is outfitted with a pickup jack for a mic and a gold fine tuner. The case also contained three bows.

There’s no readily available information on the maker of the instrument, however Italian-made violins of that era in good condition routinely sell for upwards of $25,000 CAD. The carbon fibre BAM case he housed it in runs about another $1K CAD.

But, the instrument’s value was more than monetary to Mitch, who told reporters that he had bought it from a friend and fellow musician who had since passed away.

He reported the theft to the RCMP, who issued a public notice looking for information.

A Dramatic Rescue

About a day after reporting it stolen, Mitch managed to recover the violin, partly by happenstance. The musician and a friend scoured the neighbourhood, expanding their search to all of Kelowna and Vernon in an effort to retrace Mitch’s steps from that night, and find any trace of the beloved violin.

As they searched both on foot and cycling through areas of encampments in Kelowna and along the Okanagan Trail, Mitch says he was approached by a homeless man, who told him and his companion to search around the Queensway bus loop in Kelowna’s downtown.

Once he got there, Mitch caught sight of a man toting the silver coloured violin case. The man placed it on the ground, and Mitch and his friend sprang into action. As Mitch’s friend chatted with the man, Mitch grabbed the violin, and the pair hurried away.

The man seemed visibly upset, as Mitch told reporters, and claimed he’d bought it for $20.

“I don’t want to be any kind of vigilante, but what’s mine is mine,” he told a CBC Radio host.

He’s used the instrument for both performing across the country as well as overseas, and for teaching in Kelowna. The neck and strings of the instrument have weathered some damage from the misadventure, but he intends on repairing it to play once again.

“I can hopefully bring it back to life even better than it was before. Its voice will live on.”


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