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Manitoba Known For It’s Giant Roadside Attractions – for Aug. 19, 2010

Manitoba has always been “big” when it comes to lakes and landscape. But in recent years it has also become the place of large roadside attractions in the form of various statues and monuments. Gladstone’s “Happy Rock” gained fame this summer with its portrayal on a Canada Post stamp, but Manitoba has about 60 more of these giant attractions.

In western Manitoba a short stretch of No. 10 Highway between Minnedosa and Clear Lake has three man-made attractions: a large canvasback duck at the rest stop at the north junction of highways 10 and 16; a Viking ship in downtown Erickson; and a giant elk (wapiti) beside the highway in Onanole. You could easily stop at all three on one short drive.

The canvasback duck north of Minnedosa is a reminder that the region is famous for its potholes, which provide excellent breeding habitat for waterfowl. The duck, almost 16 feet in size, was a millennium project and was constructed by Ralph Berg of Saskatchewan. The Viking ship, completed about 1984, commemorates the Scandinavian heritage of many of Erickson’s early immigrants; consequently the town is known as the “land of the Vikings.”

The elk was erected in 1996 and is dedicated to the pioneers and residents of Onanole. The seven-point bull elk is 15- 1/2×20 feet in size and was also constructed by Ralph Berg. It is made of six 45-gallon metal drums framed with chicken wire and covered with fibreglass. At night, spotlights make it an impressive sight.

A different route with several roadside attractions that could easily be visited in one day is Highway No. 2 which sports a camel, a windmill, a pipe and a fire hydrant all within about an hour’s drive. Glenboro’s camel, named Sara, is an emblem for Manitoba’s only desert just to the north. Made of fibreglass, metal and concrete, Sara is 24 feet high and was constructed in 1978 by George Baron.

Holland’s contribution to roadside attractions is the windmill on the northwest side of town. It’s 42 feet high and is illuminated each evening. (With a name like Holland, and a windmill attraction, you might expect that immigrants came from the Netherlands. Actually the town was named after its first postmaster, Arthur Charles Holland, who came from England.)

In St. Claude the world’s largest tobacco pipe is on view. It represents some of the first immigrants who came to the area in 1892 from the city of St. Claude, France, whose main industry was the manufacturing of such pipes. The Manitoba pipe is about 19 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Farther east in Elm Creek is a giant fire hydrant. Built by volunteer firefighters in 2001, it’s nearly 30 feet tall. It is located next to the fire hall and took about seven months to build. (Beaumont, Texasclaimsto have the largest fire hydrant in the world but it’s actually several feet smaller.)

South of Highway No. 2 are other roadside attractions to watch for. At Roseisle, there’s an 11-foot rose plant with three flowers, 224 thorns and 112 leaves. Located at La Rivire on Highway No. 3 is Tom the wild turkey, a nine-foot statue erected in 1986.

Farther east at Roland on Highway No. 23, home of the annual Pumpkin Festival, is the world’s largest pumpkin. Roland became known for giant pumpkins in the 1970s and ’80s when Edgar Van Wykes grew pumpkins that made theGuinness Book of Records.The pumpkin statue, built by Ed and Helen Toews, is 12×12 feet and weighs 1,684 lbs. (763 kg).

The Interlake is another region that offers many monuments including the Komarno mosquito; the Inwood garter snakes; the Gimli Viking; the moose at Riverton; the Meleb mushrooms; the sharptail grouse at Ashern; and several others. A tourist could easily visit a few of these on one trip. Farther west and north, a day’s drive could include the beaver at Dauphin; Gilbert the golf ball at Gilbert Plains; the revolving diamond at Roblin; the rose at Inglis; the bull at Russell and other stops.

On a visit to the city of Portage la Prairie, one can see four different monuments. On Highway 1A near the west end is “the world’s largest Coca-Cola can” – originally constructed from an old water tower. On the southwest side, on the Long Plain First Nations urban reserve, is a bald eagle standing high atop the replica of a dead spruce tree. Created by Manitoba artist Jake Goertzen, it was erected in December 2007 near a former residential school. Portage also has a windmill on Island Park along Crescent Lake, and north of town is a large great grey owl, which was constructed privately. One could spend a whole afternoon visiting these attractions.

If you think I’ve mentioned a lot of roadside monuments, that’s probably less than half of them. Southwestern Manitoba offers the giant turtle at Boissevain, while Melita is getting a 30-foot banana this summer. Statues are found in most of the settled parts of our province, including the North. Sometimes there’s controversy over whether the cost will be worthwhile, but these are definitely a tourist attraction.

The next time you’re planning a trip around our province, perhaps you might look up some Manitoba “Giants.” Check them out at these websites:

– Donna Gamache writes from Macgregor, Manitoba

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