“Keep off Sara & Sam,” the sign pleads. “Don’t break our backs.”
My favourite roadside attraction in Manitoba is a pair of giant red-sided garter snakes on a rocky pedestal in Inwood, not far from the world-famous Narcisse Snake Dens. In the spring, more than 100,000 snakes come out of their communal winter dens for a mating frenzy before the normally anti-social creatures slither away to summer feeding grounds. In the fall, the snakes make a collective beeline back to their four dens deep in limestone crevices. S-sara and S-sam, as they’re officially known, are available for viewing year-round in Inwood Park just off Hwy. 17 — just don’t climb on them.
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Here are eight more of Manitoba’s quirkiest roadside monuments, a North American phenomenon that dates back to the mid-1900s as a clever way to attract tourists. It sure works for me — once I know there’s one nearby, I’ll drive out of my way just to take a picture.
The Komarno mosquito
Mosquitos aren’t the most beloved of Canadian critters, but get their due in Komarno. [Jennifer Bain]
Nobody loves mosquitos, but the tiny enclave of Komarno (Ukrainian for “mosquito infested”) has declared themselves the Mosquito Capital of the World and built a giant roadside mosquito that’s reportedly 4.6-metres high. All I know is that the insect pivots on its stone stand, which is kind of creepy. Komarno is 75 kilometres north of Winnipeg and you’ve got to leave Provincial Road 229 and drive through town to find it in a patch of grass behind the “Welcome to Komarno” sign.
The Selkirk channel catfish
In Selkirk, Chuck the Channel Cat presides over Main Street and can be found outside Smitty’s restaurant. [Jennifer Bain]
Speaking of self-proclaimed “capitals,” Selkirk is the Monster Channel Catfish Capital of the World and a goofy but charming fibreglass fish dubbed Chuck dominates Main Street in front of Smitty’s restaurant.
Back in the mid-1980s, both Selkirk and Emerson, named for poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, were known for monster cats and played up a friendly feud to boost media attention and tourism. When Emerson’s mayor joked about suing Selkirk for the catfish capital of the world title, a fish-off ensued. Selkirk won.
Selkirk quickly secured more than a dozen trademarks (for slogans like Catfish Capital of the Universe and Cat-O-Rama) and unveiled the 11-metre high fibreglass catfish mascot and statue named Chuck the Channel Cat in 1986. The name was a nod to Chuck Norquay, a passionate local fishing guide who put Selkirk on the map as a catfish destination by doing things like convincing American TV fishing personality Babe Winkelman to come to town for a show. Norquay later died in a tragic fishing accident on the Red River. The statue is dedicated to “good sport and good fishing.”
Gladstone’s Happy Rock
It’s impossible to drive by this smiling fellow and not stop for a selfie in Gladstone. [Jennifer Bain]
You can’t help gravitate to the Happy Rock along Hwy. 16 in Gladstone. It all dates back to 1984 Chamber of Commerce contest to create an enticing mascot for the rural community already nicknamed Happy Rock. (Glad-stone. Get it? It took me a minute to make the connection.) High school student Jerry Wickstead’s entry won and when it was unveiled in 1993 the Happy Rock was 15-feet tall on a 10-foot base. One of Happy Rock’s claims to fame is that it was once showcased on a 2010 stamp as part of the Canada Post Roadside Attraction series.
Arborg’s curling rock
Even if you don’t curl, it’s fun to see the giant curling rock in Arborg right by the aquatic centre. [Jennifer Bain]
Right outside the Arborg-Bifrost Curling Club is what’s touted as the world’s largest curling rock. The 1.5-tonne “rock” is made of steel, foam and fibreglass and sits on steel support beams. It’s 4.2 metres across and 2.1 metres tall. The 2005 roadside attraction was created to honour two local teams that won provincial high school curling championship titles. A plaque lists everybody’s name and there’s even a curling poem. The giant curling rock is outside Arborg’s aquatic centre, if you’re looking for a twisting slide and spray arches.
Retired Parks Canada ranger and wildlife biologist Patrick Rousseau shows off Onanole’s giant elk. [Jennifer Bain]
Not only does Riding Mountain National Park have a captive herd of Plains bison, it’s the place to go if you want to hear the strange sound of bugling elk during the fall rutting season. The province boasts about 7,000 elk, which are smaller than moose but bigger than deer and centred around this park. Along Hwy. 16 in the nearby hamlet of Onanole, they’ve erected a giant elk (sometimes called a wapiti) to honour the area’s pioneers and residents.
Poplarfield’s King Buck
This male, white-tailed deer can be found in Poplarfield and has been dubbed the King Buck. [Jennifer Bain]
Not far from the Narcisse Snake Dens is the “King Buck” in Poplarfield. The male, white-tailed deer looks towards the King Buck Inn and the junction of Highways 17 and 68. The monument was placed on its pedestal in 1991 to pay tribute to “a magnificent, resourceful animal” that “provided sustenance to the pioneers during hard times, then recreational sport for the hunters of today.” A plaque urges everyone to “strive to protect this animal for future generations.”
Meleb’s mushroom trio
I’d love to know exactly what kind of mushrooms these are, but the one in the back is surely a morel. [Jennifer Bain]
Unveiled on July 16, 1994 to celebrate 90 years of settlement in the area, the Meleb mushroom statue features three oversized mushrooms. The area is a renowned mushroom picking site. Look for it in Meleb-Park-Cummings Schools Reunion Park (aka Meleb Park) on Hwy. 7. I haven’t been able to find out exactly what kind of mushrooms these are, but one is definitely a morel.
The iconic Viking statue on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli honours the area’s Icelandic heritage. [Jennifer Bain]
Unveiled in 1967 by the president of Iceland, Gimli’s iconic Viking statue speaks to the fact that this area, once known as New Iceland, has strong ties with Iceland. The weathered, fibreglass tourist attraction was given a facelift four years ago. It’s in Viking Park, which now boast three gardens inspired by Norse myths.