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.
In 1960, construction on a stretch of the Trans-Canada between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie was completed — and so, too, was construction on a giant goose.
The two events were connected: knowing that the highway would bypass the community, local businessman Al Turcott thought that it ought to capitalize on the additional traffic — and that an unexpected attraction might be just the thing to get people to pull over and check out the township.
As the story goes, it settled on an oversized bird because Wawa means wild goose in Ojibwe. A roughly eight-metre-tall waterfowl, made of wire mesh and plaster, was unveiled at the junction of Highway 101 and the Trans-Canada on September 17, 1960, the same day as the highway’s opening ceremony.
“Having a goose on the side of the highway is a uniquely Canadian thing that strikes a lot of people as very odd, and it intrigues them,” says Alex Patterson, Wawa’s director of community services and tourism.
The original goose lasted only three years before it began to show signs of wear thanks to the harsh northern climate. It was replaced with a steel goose made of iron ore from the Helen Mine, north of Wawa. “It was a proof of concept, and it had endeared itself to the community,” says Patterson of the initial goose and the decision to replace it.
Eventually, the second goose began to rust, and, in 2008, Lori Johnson, then Wawa’s director of recreation and tourism — or Wawa’s “tourism guru,” as Patterson calls her — led the effort to replace it. The township solicited donations with the aim of raising $500,000, and local businesses and community members chipped in.
After nearly a decade, Johnson’s efforts paid off. The new goose — which cost $300,000 and weighs in at nearly three tonnes — was officially introduced on July 1, 2017, as part of Canada 150 celebrations. It’s slightly taller than its predecessors, and it’s made of stainless steel coated in bronze to prevent rusting.
Sadly, less than a week after the goose was replaced, Johnson died of cancer. “When I look at the goose, I can’t help but think of her,” says Patterson. “She’s the kind of person who’s really beloved in our community for how much she poured into this place.”
It turns out Turcott had the right instinct: Patterson estimates that more than 100,000 people visit the goose each year. “I think it does an excellent job of what it was supposed to do all along, which was to get people off the highway and get people into the community,” he says.
The goose has also served as a source of artistic inspiration. Local author Raymond MacDonnell, for example, has brought it to life in his series of WawaGoose books. “If that goose could talk, it could tell us a lot of things,” MacDonnell tells TVO.org via email.
A goose that died of heartbreak
A legend she became
But now she'll live forever
In a town that bears her name
A town that bears her name
If you should see her statue
On Highway 17
You'll know that you're in Wawa
And her love song you will sing
Her love song you will sing
The previous instalment: Niagara Falls' Floral Clock.
Next up: Sudbury's Big Nickel.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northwestern Ontario. It's brought to you in partnership with Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology. Views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the college.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.