The Big Apple in Colborne, the Big Nickel in Sudbury, and Winnie the Pooh in White River may soon have some company in the Ontario roadside attraction pantheon.
“I think you’ve probably heard talk about a proposed Highway 401 statue which would help identify the community as a destination, a place for people to pull off the highway, and take photos,” Joanne Haley, South Glengarry’s general manager of community services, told council and administration during 2019 municipal budget talks March 22.
Mrs. Haley stated that the idea evolved from a suggestion first proffered by the township’s former Chief Administrative Officer, Bryan Brown, who left the municipality’s employ in January.
“For many years, he talked about creating a figure, an attraction, for people to come and visit, like what you see throughout Northern Ontario,” she explained.
Mr. Brown had been CAO for the Municipality of Machin, located between Kenora and Thunder Bay, from 2007 to 2011, and was apparently inspired by the tourist attractions he saw in that part of the province.
Kenora boasts Husky the Muskie, while Thunder Bay has the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout on its outskirts – both of which are popular roadside stops for families, shutterbugs and other tourists.
Mrs. Haley, presenting the economic development portion of the draft budget in place of economic development officer and tourism promotions coordinator Shauna Baggs, who was absent from the recent meeting, explained that the proposed statue would, in keeping with the local Glengarry branding initiative, take the form of a 50-foot highlander.
According to Mrs. Haley, Mrs. Baggs has “done some pricing on what something like this would cost,” and arrived at the figure of $200,000 – plus an additional $100,000 to acquire the property where the statue would be erected, likely surrounded by a parking and picnic area.
The tract of land, currently owned by the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien/French Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, is situated along the 401 in Lancaster, near the juncture of South Beech Street and Country Road 34/Military Road South – practically kitty-corner to the Pilot Flying J/Denny’s truck stop.
And while the subject of the statue – part of a broader “destination marketing” initiative – was broached during the recent budget deliberations, Mrs. Haley pointed out that the cost for the proposed project was neither officially included in the budget document, nor requested by the community services/eco
nomic development and tourism offices for 2019. “This is just something for council to think about,” said Mrs. Haley. “We didn’t expect you to put $200,000 into the budget this year. We just wanted to take the opportunity to say that this is something that we would like to maybe see at some point in time, and to get council’s direction.”
Councillor Stephanie Jaworski, who called the statue “kind of a crazy idea in some aspects,” but who admitted to seeing its merits, asked Mrs. Haley about North Glengarry’s participation since the statue falls under the auspices of the townships’ joint Glengarry branding initiative.
“Just from the description we’ve heard, it talks about the 401 and 417. So have we been talking to North Glengarry, and would they have something similar there, by the 417?” she said.
Mrs. Haley replied that Mrs. Baggs has “been working very closely with North Glengarry for ideas,” including the possibility of putting up a statue in that municipality.
Mayor Frank Prevost supports the premise of the plan.
“I like that we’re thinking outside of the box, and I think that’s what we need,” said Mayor Prevost.
“If you go to Toronto, everybody gets off the 401 at the Big Apple, just to see what it is, right? So this could be a great opportunity to draw people here.”
“A little out there”
Coun. Sam McDonell was somewhat tepid in his assessment of the proposal. “I don’t hate the idea,” he said. “I thought it was a little ‘out there,’ but I don’t hate it... But I’m definitely not on board at $200,000.”
Although Coun. McDonell isn’t whole-heartedly behind the plan, he suggested that the statue could be named in honour of former Pipe-Major (John Thomas) J.T. MacKenzie – an Edinburgh native and World War II veteran who immigrated to Canada after the war.
Mr. MacKenzie, who died in 2004 at the age of 83, eventually became one of the country’s most prominent pipers, and was one of the early organizers of the Glengarry Highland Games.
Deputy-Mayor Lyle Warden felt the plan warranted additional consideration.
“I think we should have a further, in-depth discussion, on the $200,000,” he said.
“Maybe it could be discussed at strategic planning (sessions).”
Council seemed to agree with that suggestion.
However, Councillor Martin Lang advised council and administration not to overlook an important stakeholder in the matter.
“As far as putting a statue up, like Sam, I’m not hating it. I’m becoming more open to it, as we talk more about it,” said Coun. Lang.
“But I think you’d better talk to the community a little bit first... before you just put this thing up there.”
Councillors Jaworski and McDonell also expressed the desire to have a better understanding of the potential benefits of such initiatives before making a commitment to the highlander statue.
“Speaking to economic development in general... with these crazy, outside of the box ideas, it would be great if we had more data to support their value, like how they do or would benefit us,” said Coun. Jaworski.
Coun. McDonell, concurred with his colleague.
“I’d like for somebody to be able to prove to me that some of that $200,000 is going to be recuperated,” he said.
“I’d like to see some more figures before we go and spend $200,000.”