Last month I drove 5834 kilometres in a 2014 Ford Escape from Vancouver to Ottawa, watching the rainforests run into the Rockies, peter out into the flat prairies, before blending into the Canadian shield of the boreal forests. Natural beauty aside, there were roadside attractions aplenty on the Trans-Canada worthy of a photograph, chuckle, or head scratch. Below are some of my favourites:
1. Mac the Moose, Moose Jaw, SK
I stopped off in Moose Jaw to explore the mysterious Moose Jaw Tunnels, and couldn’t miss a visit the world’s largest moose. Weighing 10 tons and standing at 10 metres tall, Mac was created in 1984 to lure passing traffic. From a certain angle, you can even get Mac to hop on your roof. At least here’s one moose I didn’t mind hitting with my Escape.
2. Three Valley Gap, BC
As my Escape hugged the road through increasingly stunning scenery towards the town of Revelstoke, the Three Valley Gap Chateau jumps out at me. The family-owned hotel, antique auto museum and heritage ghost town sits at the apex of a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, with a welcoming old-world, Alpine façade.
3. The Big Nickel, Sudbury, ON
At 9m in height, Sudbury’s Big Nickel is not quite the world-class tourist attraction it was built to be, but it is worth far more than its face value. Unveiled in 1964 at a cost of $35,000, the world’s largest coin looks over the Dynamic Earth mining and geology centre. I love the fact that the guy who created and owned The Big Nickel sold it to the city for a cool $550,000. That was one big nickel indeed!
4. Wawa Goose, Wawa, ON
Some roadside attractions are literally a wild goose chase. The freeze had set in when we pulled the Escape into a cheap motel in Wawa, a small town that has seen better days. Even so, Wawa’s iconic steel goose continues to divert traffic off Highway 1, and is one of the most photographed roadside attractions on the Trans-Canada. Wawa’s name comes from the Ojibwe word for “wild goose.”
5. Starship Enterprise, Vulcan, AB
When driving across Canada, are you prepared to boldly go where no man has gone before? Me neither, which is why I took a detour south of Calgary to the town of Vulcan, cleverly using its name to become a cosmic attraction in the Star Trek universe. Besides the pedestal-mounted starship replica, you can channel your Captain Kirk in the nearby Star Trek-themed visitor centre. A visit to Vulcan was fitting: with its Intelligent 4WD system, ambient lighting and hands-free liftgate system, my Escape felt like a spaceship too.
6. Winnie the Pooh, White River, ON
A black bear cub somehow made its way from White River Ontario to London’s Zoo, inspiring one of the most popular children’s characters ever created. Just off Highway 1 between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie, White River celebrates this quirky fact with a statue of Pooh Bear in a tree. I pulled the Escape into the parking lot, where an adjacent playground lets kids and adults stretch their legs. This should give you enough time to figure out a reasonable story when the kids ask what a “pooh” is.
7. Wildlife, Banff National Park, AB
Roadside attractions come in all shapes and sizes. Take the elk, moose, bear, and other wildlife you may see as you travel through Banff National Park. It’s not uncommon to see cars pulled to the side of the highway to take photos of the animals, which both attract and threaten drivers at the same time. “Look at the large elk!” can be an exciting moment when the animal is in the trees. Not so much if it’s flying through your windshield. Just in case any animals got too close, the Escape’s perimeter alarm system was much appreciated.
8. Terry Fox Memorial, Thunder Bay, ON
Although many years have passed since his journey across Canada inspired the world, the Terry Fox Monument continues to attract crowds. Located not far from the spot where Terry ended his epic, one-legged run for cancer research, the statue tells his remarkable story, and offers a wonderful view over Lake Superior and Thunder Bay.
9. Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, SK
Driving into or out of Saskatoon, you’ll see signs for Wanuskewin. This is the Heritage Park that made it into my book, a wonderful centre to learn about the First Nations of the prairies. The cultural galleries and exhibitions are fascinating, or you can explore the Path of the People, a network of trails in an area with 6000 years of aboriginal history.
10. World’s Largest Coke Can, Portage-la-Prairie, MB
There are giant homages to Coca-Cola in the Philippines, Iceland, Chile and Japan, but the world’s largest pop can is right here in the prairies. Creatively utilizing an old water tower, the can towers over the prairies. Enjoy a photo opp and a smile.
Robin Esrock is the author of The Great Canadian Bucket List, and host of the OLN/CityTV series Word Travels.
What are your favourite roadside attractions? Share them with us.
Robin drove from Vancouver to Ottawa for The Great Canadian Bucket List Fall Speaking Tour, presented by Ford Canada.
The Great Canadian Bucket List: One-of-a-Kind Travel Experiences is now available on bookshelves nationwide.