Bean there, done that: Why Albertans are building giant roadside attractions
We are in 2537 and it has been 200 years since civilization was almost wiped out due to an unknown catastrophe.
A handful of survivors are scattered in pockets across the world, including a small group in a place once called Alberta. While digging a well for fresh water, this group discovers the rounded tip of something orange.
They finally unearthed a nine-meter-high statue. It’s a form of drop, and from the few pounds they have left, they identify the drop as a bean. But this bean has an orange hat, orange gloves, and a lime green sheath around his waist. His right arm is raised in a wave and his face is frozen in a friendly wide-eyed smile.
No one knows what this thing is. It must have been a god to the old Albertans, said one person. Another person suggests that it must have been an altar where beans were sacrificed to encourage a better harvest.
This future is imagined, but the bean statue is actually real. His name is Pinto MacBean, and he is the mascot for Bow Island, a small town in southern Alberta.
The “ bean capital of Western Canada ”
“Around 1991 or 1992, someone designed a statue… and it was put up on the freeway right next to the visitor center,” said Gordon Reynolds, the mayor of Bow Island. “They gave him a cowboy hat and he’s got a six shooter and a holster and, you know, [he’s] a little cartoonish. “
Bow Island is known as the bean capital of Western Canada. Reynolds says the area has around 20,000 acres that cultivate a variety of beans each year.
But the bean statue is not just a symbol of pride in the industry. Large objects like Pinto MacBean are a strategic marketing tool across the country, and there is a concentration in Alberta.
“Almost every day you can drive by and see the people stopped there taking pictures with Pinto MacBean,” Reynolds said. “A lot of times from there people drive downtown, go for coffee at the bakery or whatever. It was really the original impetus to build Pinto MacBean.
Bow Island actually has six “big things,” including a giant putter at the entrance to the golf course and a massive sunflower outside the former Spitz sunflower seed processing plant.
Although an official tally has not been made, it appears that Alberta has over 100 of these large items, including a four-meter-tall badminton racket in St. Albert, a cluster of six mushrooms. meters high in Vilna and a seven meter tall bee in Falher.
It’s not just a small town chase. The city of Edmonton once had the world’s largest baseball bat, swaying in the wind. The city of Calgary has an eight meter tall blue metal mechanical man.
The Rise of the “ Big Things ” in Alberta
The fascination with these large objects has started to arise in recent decades in the Prairie provinces.
“It looks like the Prairie provinces have really started down the road,” said Chris Wiebe, director of heritage and political relations at the National Trust for Canada.
He says many of these structures were created in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
“It’s just a theory of mine, but I think maybe it was sort of an anxiety created around this kind of moment in history when these [grain elevators,] which really announced the name and presence of a city, were lost in many communities of the Prairies and Western Canada. “
Wiebe says the idea for these giant roadside attractions originated in the United States when car culture was born in the 1950s. Cities needed a way to bring money to their local economies. , that’s why giant, eye-catching objects have been built along major highways like Route 66.
How is this the point of view?
As you scan the “big things” horizon across Alberta, it is evident that the settler perspective prevails and that Aboriginal representation is slim.
Mundare, a city colonized largely by Ukrainian immigrants, built a 13-meter-tall Ukrainian sausage, while the city of Coronation built an English crown.
“We have the tallest teepee in the world in Medicine Hat, and we have the largest beaver in the world at Beaver Lodge. But I don’t know if these things were done to necessarily honor or recognize or recognize Indigenous history.” , said Amber Paquette of Edmonton. first award-winning historian of Aboriginal ancestry.
Paquette is Métis, and she says many of these “great things” scattered across the province are on traditional Aboriginal lands that have many opportunities to be recognized in this way.
“It’s just interesting enough that a lot of these towns have [Indigenous], historical roots and stories to tell, but we don’t see them anywhere. “
Many of these cities have [Indigenous], historical roots and stories to tell, but we don’t see them.– Amber Paquette, City of Edmonton Laureate Historian
The town of Andrew, Alberta is home to the world’s largest mallard duck, to honor the region’s wetlands and mallard nesting grounds. On a recent trip to the region, Paquette was intrigued by the choice to build a giant duck.
“[The town] named after Andrew Whitford, and it was a Métis who first founded this town, “said Paquette.” The area I was in is traditional land for us as Métis.
Part of Paquette’s goal as the Historian’s Laureate is to reveal Indigenous stories that have been hidden over the years. She says there is an abundance of stories to choose from that represent pre-colonial history in cities across Alberta.
“It would be really nice to see a large statue recreating a First Nations story or myth, because we have so many of them and a lot of them incorporate animals.”
About the producer
Tanara McLean is a producer and reporter for CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer, Alberta. and spent his entire career in Alberta in Treaty 6 and 7 territory, working in print, radio and television. Tanara has produced several documentaries for The Doc Project, including How the mbira – an instrument with a complicated history in Zimbabwe – found a following in Western Canada.
This documentary was edited by Alison Cook, Acey Rowe and Jennifer Warren.