WAWA, Ont. – The giant honking Canada Goose in Wawa, Ont., that has quietly greeted countless travellers for more than five decades is set to fly its concrete roost ahead of the formal arrival of a replacement on Canada Day.
Hundreds of townsfolk and dignitaries are expected to be on hand for the lifting of a parachute shroud that will mark the unveiling of fowl’s latest incarnation.
“It’s our identity, so it’s been important for us,” said Chris Wray, Wawa’s chief administrative officer.
Even though everyone already knows what Goose III will look like, excitement is mounting in the town, which plans an array of festivities to mark the occasion, including drummers and a performance by Fred Eaglesmith, the alternative country singer-songwriter known for his songs about the quirky folk of rural Canada.
The new bird – essentially a clone of its immediate predecessor – was made of stainless steel in Trenton, Ont., based on detailed drawings of the older one for about $300,000. It’s about 8.5 metres tall with a wingspan of about six metres and comes in pieces that are to be assembled on site on a refurbished plinth.
“We’re hoping that they’re going to be able to put most of it together under the parachute so that we don’t ruin the big reveal,” Wray said.
The popular goose, visited by about 50,000 people a year, has appeared on a Canada Post stamp, inspired the song “Little Wawa,” appeared in the Hollywood movie “Snowcake,” and has been photographed countless times. It was the brainchild of local businessman Al Turcott, the prime mover behind “Operation Michipicoten” in the early 1950s.
That scheme involved recruiting four young men to trek through the bush to Montreal River – pretending to get lost along the way – to press home to governments the need to fill in a missing stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. However, when the highway was completed almost a decade later, Turcott realized passing motorists would need a reason to make the turn into the town, whose name in Ojibwe means “wild goose.”
Townsfolk, skeptical of his notion, were pretty sure Turcott would end up with egg on his face. History shows he didn’t.
Made of plaster-and-mesh, Goose I was erected in time for the opening of the nearby highway on Sept. 17, 1960. But within a couple of years, it was in such poor condition, the story goes, residents awoke one morning to finds parts scattered around. Much fuss and feathers ensued. The search for a sturdier replacement began.
But Goose I wasn’t about to fade away without a squawk. Turcott moved it to an attraction he had out of town on the Michipicoten River called Fort Friendship. After he died and the property sold, vandals swooped down upon the hapless bird.
“The goose was like in terrible shape, bullet holes, everything, it was horrible,” Anita Young, 69, owner of Young’s General Store, recalls.
A local prospector, Mickey Clement, salvaged the bedraggled bird – it bears little resemblance to its progeny – and moved it to a motel on the Trans-Canada just east of town. About 16 years ago, Clement asked Young if she would take it. She agreed – as long as she could pay it off in instalments.
“They had two fork lifts that brought it from the motel up the highway to this place. It was pretty exciting, I thought,” Young said of the April 2001 transport. “I have it now (and) I’m really proud to have it on my property. A lot of tourists don’t realize.”
Goose I, badly in need of a spruce in the form of paint, now perches quietly beside her store, a little more than a kilometre from where Goose II, more rusty than rustic, is counting down the last days of its 50-plus years of welcoming visitors.
One lingering question is why, in the 1980s, Goose II seemed to cross the road – although the answer appears to be “to get to the airport.” Puzzled locals remember finding huge goose footprints one morning leading from the statue, across the parking lot, and down the highway to the airport. An old newspaper report says crews from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., were called out for the cleanup.
Young’s son Allan Young said last week the prints were the handiwork of his late father Bill Young and buddy Fern Provost.
“They never admitted to it,” Allan Young told The Canadian Press. “But we still have the stencil they used.”
As has been the case for decades, Goose I has lived in the shadow of its successor and, not surprisingly, will be largely ignored amid the focus on the formal welcoming to town of Goose III on Canada Day.
One of those expecting to be on hand for the unveiling is Ken Lee, 83, of B.C.’s Salt Spring Island, who stood next to the original metal bird at the opening of the Trans-Canada back in 1960. As a Wawa councillor, it was Lee who proposed his wife’s idea of a contest – with a $50 prize – for a design for Goose II. Council went for it.
Dutch ironworker, Dick van der Cliff, was the winner – his scale model still adorns council chambers. Council agreed to pay $5,000 for the big bird. Van der Cliff ran out of money but council refused to cough up more.
“It was a real bargain,” Lee said.
Like Goose I, Goose II will live on – in some form. Pieces, such as the head and a few intact feathers, will go to large donors. Other bits might be turned into stamped miniatures and sold, with a certificate of authenticity. Money raised would go toward maintenance of Goose III, which is expected to last at least 50 years.
In recognition of the bird’s importance, both the federal and provincial governments kicked in about two-thirds of its cost.