Monumental missions Roadside curiosities continue to attract us and connect us
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Go big or go ho-ho-home.
Before we begin today’s story, David Lyons would like to tip his tuque to those of you who take the time every December to outfit a towering tree in the front yard with glittering lights, from tip to toe. Lyons, you see, is the person responsible for Roadside Attraction Addict, an Instagram account wholly dedicated to attention-grabbing, oversized monuments, the sort that commonly line highways and bi-ways across the continent. This time of year, his social media account is all Tannenbaum, all the time.
Last week he and his husband were on their way to Assiniboine Park to take in the Zoo Lights spectacular, when out of the corner of one eye, he spotted a 10-metre-tall fir tree in a yard on Grenfell Boulevard, fully decked out in blue, green and red bulbs.
“I had no idea whose house it is, and didn’t want to bother the homeowners, so I stayed on the street while Richard took my picture,” he says, holding out his phone to show off images of himself posing next to Christmas trees at The Forks, throughout his North Kildonan neighbourhood and, from last December, near the arrivals carousel at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.
“Come winter, I don’t like going too far, but there’s this one Christmas tree in Carman I really should make a point of visiting,” he continues. “It’s outside of a service station, it’s made entirely out of tires and it’s there year-round. We’ve driven by it in the summer, but my guess is it’s more impressive in the winter.”
Lyons, 50, was an army brat growing up. He, his parents and an older sister lived in a number of spots all over Canada. Come summer, when it was time to visit relatives, it always meant a good, old-fashioned, family road trip, he says, seated in Cityplace, steps away from the downtown centre’s two-storey tall, faux Christmas tree.
Oftentimes if they were passing, say, the Big Nickel, a nine-metre-tall replica of a Canadian five-cent piece in Sudbury, Ont., or Chilliwack, B.C.’s Bedrock City, which, before it closed in 2010, was home to (yabba-dabba-do) Fred Flintstone and friends, it was a case of “everybody out of the car.”
Only after his father snapped a photo of them all in front of this or that monolith caught his eye would they be allowed back into the vehicle, to continue their journey.
Lyons, a library technician, guesses he was 25 years old when he noticed the sculpture of the white horse just outside St. Francois Xavier, on the side of the road ahead just west of Winnipeg. He’d gone by it multiple times with his parents, and had always wanted to take a closer look, but because it was so close to Winnipeg, his father would always complain it was too soon to pull over… how they’d get to it next time.
“Next time” never arrived, so as he was whizzing along the Trans-Canada, he thought, this was his big chance.
One roadside attraction photo led to another, a second led to a third and before you could say Huskie the Muskie, Lyons had filled an entire album with snapshots — this was before cellphone cameras were commonplace, remember, and everything was on film — of his various finds.
It wasn’t long after Facebook was founded in 2004 that he established an account, primarily to share his vast collection of photographs. Response was universally positive and his online friends loved his assortment of ginormous animals, foodstuffs and whatchamacallits (Who can say why Elm Creek, west of Winnipeg, boasts a 10-metre-tall fire hydrant?), but what he craved was a bigger audience, one comprised of “nerds like me.”
How did he know there were others who shared his passion? That was easy, he says. Who else would be interested in a website, roadsideamerica.com, that was founded in 2004, expressly to offer information on and directions to, at last count, over 15,000 “odd and hilarious travel destinations” in Canada and the United States?
Seven years ago, a co-worker introduced him to Instagram. He was hesitant initially, but after getting the hang of it, and realizing if he used certain hashtags, anybody following those would get a notification about a new post of his.
“It worked out pretty good. I’m currently at around 3,000 followers, even though that’s nothing compared to some of the people who do this sort of thing, too,” he says.
Shauna Kowalyk and Kristine Hymus are the ‘S’ and ‘K’ behind S & K Go Away, an Instagram account with a tick under 10,000 followers. The pair live in Saskatchewan and have been going on road trips together since 2017.
“The love for roadside attractions came about unexpectedly on our travels,” Kowalyk says, when reached at home in Regina. “We both love anything quirky, so it was just natural that we started stopping for pictures, when we saw them along the way.”
They began to document their trips on Instagram a few years ago. They have since visited more random places than they can count, to take pictures of themselves near, to name a few, a giant cowboy boot, a jumbo banana and a monster mosquito, the latter of which rests in Komarno, near Winnipeg Beach.
Among their favourites in their home province are a towering paper clip in Kipling, a giant hand at the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon — “kind of creepy, but makes for the perfect photo opportunity” — and, of course, Moose Jaw’s steel-and-concrete Mac the Moose.
“It’s been so much fun (and) through this we’ve connected with so many great people around the world, like David from Roadside Attraction Addict,” they say, in unison.
Back at Cityplace, Lyons replies “a bit of both,” when asked if he and his better half plan their annual summer getaways around roadside attractions he wishes to document, or whether they pick a destination, and hope for the best along the way.
They drove to Las Vegas four years ago. While there were faster ways to get there, they chose a route that took them through western North Dakota, past the so-called Enchanted Highway and its 50-kilometre stretch of sculptures (Grasshoppers! Pheasants! Canada geese!) built entirely out of scrap metal.
Last summer, when they were headed to Drumheller, Alta., they made a pitstop in Swift Current, Sask., home of arguably the world’s largest prairie lily, a detour through Bow Island, Alta., where Pinto MacBean, a gargantuan legume has been welcoming visitors since 1992, and yet another pause in Taber, Alta., which boasts a 12-metre-tall cob of corn on the outskirts of town. (Anybody have a giant toothpick?)
Of course, things don’t always go as planned. One time they travelled to Nipigon, Ont., expressly to witness a statue of a lake trout, except it was a shadow of its former, fishy self, having lost its tail and fins to the elements. “The last I heard, they had taken it down for repairs, and it still isn’t on display,” he says. (So what you’re saying is it’s Nipi-gone?)
As for a hit-list, there are but two roadside attractions in Manitoba he believes he hasn’t been to yet, the trapper monument in The Pas and a gargantuan inuksuk in Churchill. Granted, Australia is supposedly teeming with colossal koala bears and kangaroos, so maybe one day, he muses.
One last question before we let him go to Canad Inns Winter Wonderland, where he’s looking forward to saying hi to Bumble, the abominable snow creature from the 1964 stop-action film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: given his predilection for substantial sights, are we safe to assume his abode is a traffic-stopper nonpareil, and that the front lawn, snowy as it may be, is loaded to the hilt with roof-high inflatables and such?
Not at all, he says, polishing off the last of his coffee.
“It’s all eye candy, and I love to see it, but heavens no, I don’t want it at my house.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.