Roadside Mascots of Manitoba

Tuesday, 25th January 2011 by

Across the heartland of North America are thousands of little burgs competing for your tourist money; each of them touting their unique small town charm, often along with a few quirky attractions. Many towns attempt to draw tourists in off the roadway with rather interesting, charming, or just plain absurd statues depicting local icons. Few places have taken this to heart more than the Canadian province of Manitoba, where dozens of such roadside oddities exist.

Most of these mascots make a fair bit of sense. It’s only natural that the town of Gladstone, for example, would have a mascot named ‘Happy Rock’. Get it? ‘Glad’? ‘Stone’? Sure you do.

The northern mining city of Flin Flon has a rather whimsical name derived from a character in a turn-of-the century dime novel1 named Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. A statue designed by Al Capp was erected in honour of old Flinty and greets visitors at the entrance to town:

Other name-based mascots reflect the history of settlement in the region. ‘Komarno’ is Ukrainian for mosquito, giving rise to the village of the same name; its giant mosquito doubles as a weather vane. Just to the east of Komarno is Gimli (Old Norse for ‘heaven’), home to the largest population of Icelanders outside of Iceland, which greets visitors to its massive beach with a giant Viking.

Some villages opt for displaying local pastimes, such as those in Manitoba’s Parkland region. The village of McCreary was home to of one of Manitoba’s few alpine ski resorts. To the north, Gilbert Plains is proud of its golf course. Combine those sports with the Parkland’s large percentage of residents of Scottish descent, and you get the baby-faced Alpine Archie and the Ross tartan-clad Gilbert the Golf Ball (inexplicably carrying an ice hockey stick – well, I suppose it is Manitoba…).

And then there are the more esoteric mascots, such as Glenboro’s Sara the Camel:

Or Boissevain’s Tommy the Turtle, built in honour of the city’s former annual turtle-racing derby:

The highway pullouts of Manitoba don’t just feature wacky mascots; they also feature plenty of ‘World’s Largests’. For example, the World’s Largest Coca-Cola Can, the World’s Largest Pumpkin, and the World’s (Second) Largest Fire Hydrant (which actually stores water!).

These statues and sculptures may seem quaint or even goofy at first, but ultimately they are integral and beloved parts of the landscape chosen by residents as emblems of their communities and visited by tourists from around the world. Long may they stand guard over the lone prairie.

This selection only scratches the surface; you can find more roadside monuments in Manitoba (and all of Canada) at Big Things.

  1. The Sunless City: From the Papers and Diaries of the Late Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin (or simply The Sunless City) was a dime novel written by J. E. Preston Muddock in 1905. In the novel, ‘Flinty’ is a prospector who explores a bottomless lake in a submarine, and discovers a land where everything is backwards.