An oversized Easter egg, coins as big as houses, the world’s largest T.rex; Canadian towns and cities have their fair share of unique roadside attractions, and Kenora, Ont. is one of them.
At 12-metres tall, Kenora’s Husky the Muskie is the largest fish statue in Canada, however, the world title belongs to Wisconsin’s 12-metre-tall and 43-metre-long fibreglass muskie. Kenora’s homage to the fish has stood at the west end of the city in McLeod Park since it was unveiled on July 1, 1967, delighting tourists and serving as a photo-op for 55 years.
But over time, the statue has eroded. That’s why the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry announced on March 11 that through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), it would provide the City of Kenora with $493,077 to restore Husky the Muskie to its former glory and refurbish McLeod Park with upgrades and new attractions, including a playground, picnic area, fishing pier, and amphitheatre.
“Today’s announcement boosts regional employment, attracts more visitors, and reignites Kenora’s sense of community and pride of place while ensuring Husky the Muskie remains a beloved mascot, tourist attraction, and ambassador for preventing water pollution,” said Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries in a press release.
As MacLeod mentioned, Husky the Muskie has long been tied to Kenora’s identity. The city constructed the statue, in part, to celebrate Canada’s centennial, but also to draw in tourists. In 1949, the federal government passed the Trans Canada Highway Act, determined to connect the country from coast-to-coast. Prior to this, large swaths of Canada weren’t connected by road.
In 1962, the Canadian government completed the project, allowing people to drive from British Columbia to the Maritimes uninterrupted. This meant there were a lot more people driving through local towns and cities. To take advantage of the tourism boom, local governments scrambled to erect giant statues and attractions designed to draw visitors in and explore the local businesses.
As it happens, one of the highways—Highway 17, to be exact—ran right through Kenora, and the city wanted a slice of the action. Giant geese, life-sized mammoths, even an exaggerated lawnmower, were popping up in cities around Kenora. To stay competitive, the city’s chamber of commerce started discussions about building their own roadside attraction in 1963.
Chaired by Marc Marcino, the committee settled on a statue of a muskie. “The Muskie is considered a prize fish. It’s been called the fish of 10,000 casts because it’s a challenge to catch them,” explained Lori Nelson, director of The Muse, a museum and art gallery devoted to the Lake of the Woods. “[Marc’s] thinking was that he considered Kenora a prize town, so how better to represent it than with a prize fish.”
The committee raised $5,000 in donations and commissioned Bob Selway and Jules Horvath of Deluxe Signs and Displays to construct the statue. At one time, there were thoughts of having the statue emerge from the waters of Kenora Bay, but this idea was scrapped.
The statue was composed of a steel beam with a plywood shell, covered with wire mesh. Over the wire mesh was a malleable foam that helped give the muskie its shape. Finally, the structure was encased in multiple layers of tinted fibreglass, Nelson says.
Before the unveiling, the Chamber of Commerce solicited the public for a name. In response, they received everything from Leaping Lizzie to Peter the Pike to Moe. Bill Brabrooke submitted the winning suggestion with the slogan: “Husky the Muskie says Prevent Water Pollution.”
The statue was a hit, establishing Kenora as a must-stop on the tourist roadmap. “Every person travelling by car across Canada must pass our symbol,” Marcino was quoted as saying.
Husky the Muskie has remained a key piece in Kenora’s tourism strategy. In 1995, Ross Kehl of Perma-Flex Systems restored the statue after the colour faded and the fibreglass cracked. The latest restoration aims to reaffirm Kenora as a tourism hotspot.