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No one knows what Alexander Wood really looked like, since the only pictorial evidence of the man many consider a gay pioneer is reproductions of a Georgian silhouette portrait.

But the unveiling next Saturday of an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Mr. Wood in the heart of Toronto's gay village will depict him as a pony-tailed 25-year-old.

"And handsome," artist Del NewBigging adds, "because the people in this community will appreciate that.

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"I've worked from the portrait to make sure the sculpted face matched his profile, and researched the early-1800 clothing styles," says Mr. NewBigging, who spent almost two years creating the work. "And also added a gay flair which I am convinced he would have had."

Add to that a flair for sexual scandal, the details of which will be portrayed in a relief on one side of the monument's granite base.

The image reveals Mr. Wood in the midst of the very scene that local historians say outed him as a gay man and caused him to flee York (now Toronto) for his native Scotland.

Having emigrated from Scotland at 21, the young, well-educated Mr. Wood seemed a success story. Establishing himself as a thriving merchant, he soon became an appointed magistrate.

His local prominence would quickly diminish, though, after he committed an act that outraged the normally respectful people of York.

From his position of influence, Mr. Wood individually told several young men that a woman was accusing them each of rape, and that she claimed to have scratched her assailant's genitalia. Feigning a search for truth and justice, Mr. Wood had each accused man unbutton before him to prove their unscathed innocence.

"We don't know if he had actual sex with them or not," says Dennis O'Connor, chair of the Church and Wellesley Business Improvement Association and the man responsible for spearheading the statue project. "But in a historical context, abusing his power and doing what he did was certainly shocking enough in an era when sodomy was punishable by death."

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The accused young men talked, and soon Mr. Wood found he had not only earned the new unofficial title of "inspector general of private accounts," but was also branded a "molly," a colloquialism used in the same spirit as the term "faggot" often is today. The ensuing dishonour drastically affected his business. Mr. Wood admitted guilt, but fled York to avoid imprisonment.

Two years later, in 1812, he ended his exile, making a comeback that saw him resume not only all his previous occupations, but act as agent for absentee landowners and as acting director of several organizations, including the Bank of Upper Canada and the Toronto Library. But the stigma of the scandal never completely left Mr. Wood; when he purchased 50 acres of land at Carlton and Church Streets more than a dozen years later, the area was sneeringly referred to as Molly Wood's Bush.

More than 150 years later, Molly Wood's Bush is now Toronto's gay village (by happy coincidence), with both Alexander and Wood Streets named for him.

While smaller monuments to gay rights exist in Amsterdam, Cologne and New York, the Wood statue, a large-scale foundry project, is the first gay-individual-focused monument of its kind in the world.

Next weekend's celebratory unveiling, scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. at Alexander and Church Streets, will include a marching parade of bagpipers and performing colour guard, with representatives of the gay-focused community group Supporting Our Youth and the flag-spinning lads of the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps also set to appear.

All this for a man who tricked others into showing him their johnsons?

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"We're creating a footprint on the street to make sure some of our history is kept alive," Mr. O'Connor says. "This history isn't taught at schools. Our gay youth need to see our heroes and our past.

"Others would have been thrown in jail for what he did. Alexander Wood was philanthropic, he fought in the war of 1812, was the treasurer for all the charitable societies of the day, plus a staunch member of the church. These are big things that connect him to us.

"As a gay hero, we have found our man."

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