Roadside-attraction showdown: Perth’s Mammoth Cheese

Almost 130 years ago, it wowed audiences in Chicago and across the Atlantic. Today, you, too, can be wowed — by a replica of a mammoth cheese
By Marsha McLeod - Published on Jul 28, 2021
The life-sized replica of the Mammoth Cheese is located close to the Perth Museum and the Perth Cheese Shop. (Courtesy of the Town of Perth)



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 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.

Check out the other contestants here.

In 1893, a local celebrity was born in Perth: the Mammoth Cheese. Made from the milk of a dozen Lanark County factories and using the equivalent of a day’s worth of milk from 10,000 cows, it weighed in at nearly 10,000 kilograms. The behemoth, encased in a mould of steel boiler plate, was set to make its debut at the Chicago World's Fair, but first it had to get there.  

black and white photo of a giant cheese
Perth's Mammoth Cheese on display at the Chicago World's Fair. (Courtesy of the Perth Museum)

When it was time to depart, on April 17, 1893, the Canadian Pacific Railway provided a special reinforced train car to transport it to the U.S. border. That detail can be found in a history of the cheese written on its 50th anniversary by John Archibald Ruddick, a staff member at the Dominion Dairy Commission who’d supervised the collection of curd from the factories and the transportation of the Mammoth Cheese to Chicago. The endeavour cost him “many a headache and sleepless night,” he wrote, but it created the hoped-for stir. “There was a large turnout of Perth people, with a brass band to see the train depart,” he noted. “There were crowds at every station on the way to Windsor. It was said that there were 5,000 at North Toronto.”

woman with arms raised in front of a giant cheese's Indigenous Hub reporter Shelby Lisk
in front of the Mammoth Cheese. (Courtesy of
Shelby Lisk)

Debbie Sproule, who has worked for the Perth Museum for more than three decades, says that the idea for the cheese came from a Mr. Henderson, the owner of the Perth Cheese Company, who solicited help from the Dominion Dairy Commission. “He wanted to show that Perth, Ontario, Canada, is something to be reckoned with,” she says. While the giant was not Ontario’s first Mammoth Cheese, it was the biggest. (Thirty years earlier, Ingersoll’s cheesemakers had made a 3,300 kilogram Mammoth Cheese.) 

At first, Perth’s Mammoth Cheese didn’t make much of a splash in Chicago, Sproule says. But when it was lowered down into its display, it fell through the floorboards. Ruddick writes that the floor’s collapse “opened the floodgates of publicity.” (Cement, still relatively novel in Chicago, was then used to construct a platform.) 

Sproule says that fair officials left the tasting of the Mammoth Cheese for last, thinking that such a large brick of cheddar couldn’t possibly taste good. “When they tasted it, they were blown away, and it became a Grade A,” she says. “By the time [Henderson] got back, he had so many orders from people wanting to buy — not the Mammoth Cheese, but his cheese.”

After the fair, the cheese was shipped to England, where it had found a purchaser in the

small piece of cheese in plastic in front of a poster
 A piece of the original Mammoth Cheese remains
in Perth. (Courtesy of the Town of Perth)

owner of the Lipton Tea Company. “With the exception of a few inches on the surface, the cheese was sound throughout” after its voyage, reported the Liberal. “The mighty cheese, although not mitey, has been altogether a good advertisement for one of Canada’s main industries.” The cheese was then sold to 10 English chefs, who scraped off the top layer and carved it up, Sproule says. A piece was sent back to Ontario: a hunk is held — to this day — at the Perth Museum. 

In 1943, Ruddick unveiled a concrete replica of the trendsetting cheese in Perth, and, in 2009, a new monument was erected. The current, life-sized replica is located close to the Perth Museum and the Perth Cheese Shop. As for the piece of the original, it’s likely not as tasty as it once was. “It looks dehydrated now. It’s bigger than a piece of gravel, but it’s got that look to it, except it's on the yellowish side,” says Kathryn Jamieson, Perth’s heritage-tourism manager. “It's not on display anymore, but we do pull it out on occasion when people show a lot of interest in the story — which a lot of people do.”

The previous instalment: The Beardmore snowman.

Next up: Chelsey’s Big Bruce the Bull.

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting eastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Queen’s University.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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