One of these days I have to go visit Eddie the squirrel.
Eddie is a giant fiberglass statue in Edson’s RCMP Centennial Park. Perched on a log with a baby-sized bronze spruce cone in its paws, it has served as the town’s mascot for nearly 50 years and is a popular tourist attraction for people heading to Jasper .
« We think he’s the largest red squirrel in Canada, » said Shari McDowell, manager of the Galloway Station Museum just steps from Eddie.
« It’s unbelievable how many people stop and have their picture taken with Eddie. »
Eddie is one of many large and bizarre roadside monuments scattered across Alberta. There are well over a hundred of them, and you can easily spend an entire summer vacation hunting them down.
If you need a map, check out roadsideattractions.ca, one of Canada’s most comprehensive online guides to roadside attractions.
Mira van Bodegom, a former St. Albert resident, runs the site, having stumbled across it 20 years ago while looking for things to do after moving to Ontario. Since then, she has visited some 200 roadside landmarks in Canada, including Sudbury’s Nickel, Mundare’s Sausage, Vegreville’s Pysanka and the Starship Enterprise in Vulcan.
« People love them because they’re fun and interesting, » she said of these monuments.
« They’re all weird in their own way. »
Big things up north
While many of Alberta’s great things are clustered around Red Deer, Calgary and Drumheller, van Bodegom’s site also lists quite a few north of Edmonton. You can find Mozzy the Mosquito (a modified pumpjack) in Rainbow Lake, for example, and a pretty big moose in Manning. Peace River has a 12-foot-tall statue of Henry Davis (a legendary local prospector), while Hines Creek boasts the tallest railroad peak in the world.
St. Albert also has a lot of significant stuff, including a spruce cone, a hinged bench, and that wheat-goose-mutant hybrid thing from the Grandin Medical Clinic.
One of the oldest big things in town is the Red Willow Badminton Club’s 14-foot-tall badminton racket, which was commissioned by club manager Jean Folinsbee in 2000.
« We had a nice sign that said ‘Red Willow Badminton Club,’ but someone stole it, » she explained, and she and assistant manager Carol Moores came up with the idea of raising a racket giant as a replacement.
« Vegreville has the giant Easter egg, » Folinsbee told The Gazette in 2000.
« Why can’t St. Albert have the badminton racket? »
Folinsbee said the club ordered a 225-kilogram scale replica of one of its racquets for $3,500. The club tried to list it in the Guinness World Records as the tallest on Earth, but were unsuccessful, possibly because the racquet has steel strings instead of nylon. Plans for a giant shuttle to accompany the racket never materialized.
While the club would be just as great without the racket, Folinsbee said it attracts casual tourists and certainly makes the club easy to find.
« I’m just saying, ‘Look for the big badminton racket. « »
North of St. Albert in Sturgeon County, you’ll find the Discovery Derrick in Redwater, the first derrick that discovered oil in 1948 and put the town on the map. In addition to his many murals, Legal owns Depression Pete, a strange seven-foot skeleton made from car parts in 1971 to promote Coulombe’s welding shop.
Further north in Westlock is the world’s largest tractor weather vane, which sways in the wind atop a 60-foot pole at the Canadian Tractor Museum. Built in 2006 by volunteers, the weather vane is topped with a 1942 Case tractor donated by community builder Albert Miller, whose $8 million estate now funds the Westlock Community Foundation.
Northeast of St. Albert is Andrew’s Giant Duck – actually one of two oversized ducks in the community. In an email, Andrew’s Village Clerk Katrina Dubasov said the larger of two ducks (dubbed the largest in the world) were built in 1992 to honor nearby Lake Whitford as a conservation site and major migration route for waterfowl.
“Ducks are an important part of wetlands because they spread seeds from one ecosystem to another,” she said, as many residents of Andrew have moved there from elsewhere.
« The mallard reminds us of where our village has been and where it will go – forward, together, as a community. »
Eddie the Squirrel dates back to 1973, when the wives of Edson city councilors were considering how to promote their community at the upcoming Alberta Urban Municipalities Convention, McDowell said. Millie Crawford (wife of then-mayor Jim Crawford) had collected ceramic squirrels made from local clay as gifts, and suggested a squirrel mascot in line with Jasper the Bear from Jasper. (Some accounts say Crawford may have also wanted to foster the Edson/Hinton hockey rivalry and joked, « How about a squirrel, ’cause they think we’re all crazy anyway! ») Councilors handed out some 400 ceramic squirrels with « Edson » written all over them at the convention, and a mascot was born.
The original Eddie was a chunky cement structure with a nut in its legs, made in the 1980s by Trygve Seland, the artist responsible for around 30 giant monuments in Alberta, including Drumheller’s Little Church and Aaron the Blue Heron of Barrhead. McDowell said the original Eddie stood outside the city’s Chamber of Commerce building until it was removed in 2009. The current Eddie was unveiled in 2011 to coincide with the reopening of the Galloway Museum.
More than tourism
Big things like Eddie are more than just tourist attractions. They serve as landmarks for navigation and rallying points for local history and pride. The Beaverlodge Beaver commemorates the community’s 75th anniversary, for example, while the Glendon Pyrogy (in Pyrogy Park on Pyrogy Drive) recalls the community’s deep Ukrainian roots. Edson features a costumed Eddie at community events, such as the annual Big Eddie Run, and has added squirrels to his coat of arms.
And great things are just fun. Whether it’s Chauvin’s Susie the Softball or Bow Valley’s Pinto McBean, these giant monuments are sure to put a smile on your face as you pass by.
This content was produced by our St. Albert Gazette newsroom for Passport to Summer 2022 and Great West Media’s Hot Summer Guide 2022.