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Roadside statues have a story to tell

Some represent history, geography or legends, others are just plain quirky

Tommy the Turtle at Boissevain.

Are you interested in exploring Manitoba’s rural areas, and want an educational summer project for your children? Why not research and visit some of the province’s many roadside statues.

Often the monuments represent something important in the history of a town, such as the giant Viking at Gimli (which has the largest population of Icelanders outside of Iceland), or the Viking ship at Erickson, built to commemorate the region’s Scandinavian heritage. On the outskirts of Austin, an antique steam engine represents the nearby Manitoba Agricultural Museum, while on Long Plain First Nation Urban Reserve beside Portage la Prairie, a bald eagle atop a replica of a dead spruce tree commemorates the site of a former residential school.

Sometimes the structures try to mimic the town’s name, as in the Happy Rock statue on the outskirts of Gladstone. Others include the beautiful statues of roses at Roseisle, and the giant mosquito at Komarno (the Ukrainian word for mosquito).

Some roadside attractions emphasize a geographic or natural attraction of the area, such as: Alpine Archie at McCreary (near the Riding Mountains, and the former Agassiz Ski Hill); Tom the Turkey at La Rivière (the area in Manitoba where the wild turkey was introduced); Arden’s crocuses that represent the provincial flower growing nearby; the King Miner at Thompson, built to honour those who toil in the area’s mines; and the polar bear and Inukshuk statues at Churchill.

Some statues come from a fictional story, like Flin Flon’s mascot, Flintabbatey Flonatin. He came from an old novel, The Sunless City, about a character of that name who came out of a gold-studded hole in the ground. The white horse statue near St. Francois Xavier represents an Aboriginal legend about star-crossed lovers who married but had to flee on a snow-white horse to try to escape from a jealous chief, who had also wanted to marry the woman. The couple was killed, but the horse escaped and roamed the surrounding prairie for many years, in the region now called the White Horse Plain.

Other statues are just plain whimsical or quirky. Melita has a huge banana named Sunny, with Breezy the blue jay in his hand, to indicate that it’s a good spot for birders and often has the warmest temperatures in Manitoba — although it’s definitely no Banana Belt climate!

Sharp-tailed grouse at Ashern. photo: Donna Gamache

Many of the roadside attractions claim to be the “largest” of something, like the world’s largest pumpkin at Roland; the coca cola can at Portage la Prairie; the curling rock at Arborg; the sturgeon at Dominion City; the largest moose at Riverton; and the largest wagon wheel at Fisher Branch.

Do some research before visiting some of these roadside attractions, and choose areas where several are located in one general region. A trip to the Interlake, for instance, could include several statues: the Komarno mosquito; the giant mushrooms at Meleb; the garter snakes at Inwood, representing the Narcisse Snake Dens nearby; the Gimli Viking; a giant Canada goose at Lundar; and the white-tailed deer at Poplarfield.

A trip along Highway No. 2 could search out: Sara the Camel at Glenboro (representing the nearby Spirit Sands of Spruce Woods Provincial Park); the windmill at Holland; the tobacco pipe at St. Claude; and the fire hydrant at Elm Creek. On a longer drive along Highway 10, starting at the U.S. border, you could find up to 10 or so statues including: Boissevain’s Tommy the Turtle; the canvasback duck northwest of Minnedosa at the junction of highways 10 and 16; Erickson’s Viking ship; and the giant elk at Onanole. Continuing northward, you’ll find Dauphin’s friendly beaver; Gilbert the golf ball at Gilbert Plains; and the Swan River swan. If you drive all the way to see Flintabbatey, don’t miss the trapper statue at The Pas, commemorating the annual Trappers’ Festival.

If your summer plans include trips to other parts of Canada, there are numerous roadside statutes in other provinces, too. Heading east, watch for Huskie the Muskie at Kenora and Max the Moose in Dryden. Driving west on No. 1, watch for the namesake statue at Indian Head, Saskatchewan, and Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw.

Visit the websites below for more on Manitoba roadside statues:

For those across Canada, shown by province, visit the Large Roadside Attractions of Canada website.

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