Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?
Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.
If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with TVO.org over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.
At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.
When the completion of the Canadian National Rail opened opportunities for settlement along the southern edge of the James Bay lowlands in the early 1900s, people settling near Remi Lake saw the Northern Lights flashing in the sky — and called them “moonbeams.” When a town was founded there in 1922, it was named Moonbeam, in honour of the lights.
Local legend has it that, in the 1970s, large reddish-orange discs were seen in the sky: 15 to 20 feet in diameter, they were reportedly accompanied by sudden static interruptions on the local radio and television broadcasts, says Moonbeam mayor Nicole Levesque. “In honour of Moonbeam’s affinity for the unexplained,” Levesque says, “the town adopted a UFO as its symbol in 1991 and erected a 2.7-metre-high, 5.5-metre diameter model of a flying saucer along Highway 11.”
Since its installation, the Moonbeam UFO has drawn fans of the paranormal and general audiences to the town of 1,200 people. “It attracts all sorts of people,” Levesque says, adding that some show up wearing polarized welding goggles, which they claim will give them a better view of the “moon ships” and the aliens inside. “But that’s okay,” Levesque says. The town mascot, Kilo — a green alien who resembles the classic Roswell alien — can often be spotted at local events.
But, according to Levesque, not everyone on town council embraced the attraction when it was first set up. “Some of them thought it was a joke,” she says; some residents even protested. “Some people would have preferred to have a fish or something like that, because of our lakes. But a fish is something that you see everywhere,” she says. The out-of-this-world attraction, however, is in keeping with the town’s cosmic name — and skeptics have since warmed up to it. “Now everybody seems to be happy about it,” Levesque says.
The town may be well-known for its UFO, but many come to Moonbeam for the outdoor activities it has on offer: its population triples in the summer when people visit their camps to hunt and fish, and snowmobiling and ice-fishing dominate the winter. But for people just driving through the northern end of the Trans-Canada Highway, the spaceship is an essential pit stop.
“I have to admit that it is unique,” Levesque says. “You don't see that anywhere else. Even the name Moonbeam is a unique name.” There’s hardly a municipal conference Levesque goes to, she says, where she doesn’t hear a remark about the name of her town. “They always tell me they love it,” she says. But what she loves most about Moonbeam, aliens aside, is the community spirit: “Moonbeam is known for its strange phenomena. But the best thing about living here is how friendly it is” — whether you’re Earthling or not.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northeastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Laurentian University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.