An oversized Easter egg, coins as big as houses, the world’s largest T.rex; Canadian cities have their fair share of unique roadside attractions, and Kenora, Ontario. is one of them.
At 12 meters tall, Kenora’s Husky the Muskie is the tallest fish statue in Canada, however, the world title belongs to the 12-meter-tall, 43-meter-long fiberglass muskellunge from Wisconsin. Kenora’s Tribute to Fish has stood on the west end of town in McLeod Park since its grand opening on July 1, 1967, delighting tourists and serving as a photo opportunity for 55 years.
But over time, the statue 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 renovate McLeod Park with upgrades and new attractions, including a playground, picnic area, fishing pier and an amphitheatre.
“Today’s announcement boosts regional employment, attracts more visitors and rekindles Kenora’s sense of community and pride while ensuring that Husky the Muskie remains a beloved mascot, tourist attraction and ambassador for water pollution prevention,” said Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage. , Sport, Tourism and Culture in a press release.
As MacLeod mentioned, Husky the Muskie has long been tied to Kenora’s identity. The city built the statue, in part, to celebrate Canada’s centennial, but also to attract tourists. In 1949, the federal government passed the Trans-Canada Highway Act, determined to connect the country from coast to coast. Previously, large swathes of Canada were not connected by road.
In 1962, the Canadian government completed the project, allowing people to drive from British Columbia to the Maritimes uninterrupted. This meant that there were many more people passing through the local towns. To take advantage of the tourism boom, local governments have rushed to erect giant statues and attractions designed to attract visitors and explore local businesses.
One of the highways — Highway 17, to be exact — happened to run through Kenora, and the city wanted a piece of the action. Giant geese, life-size mammoths, and even an over-the-top lawnmower were popping up in towns around Kenora. To stay competitive, the city’s Chamber of Commerce began discussions about building its own roadside attraction in 1963.
Chaired by Marc Marcino, the committee opted for a muskellunge statue. “The muskellunge is considered a valuable fish. It’s called the fish of 10,000 casts because it’s a challenge to catch them,” says Lori Nelson, director of The Muse, a museum and art gallery dedicated to Lake of the Woods. “[Marc’s] I thought he considered Kenora a prized city, so how better to represent it than with a prized fish.
The committee raised $5,000 in donations and commissioned Bob Selway and Jules Horvath of Deluxe Signs and Displays to build the statue. At one point, thought was given to raising the statue from the waters of Kenora Bay, but that idea was scrapped.
The statue was made of a steel beam with a plywood shell, covered with a wire mesh. Above the wire mesh was a malleable foam that helped give the muskellunge its shape. Finally, the structure was covered with several layers of tinted fiberglass, Nelson explains.
Prior to the unveiling, the Chamber of Commerce canvassed 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 tagline: “Husky the Muskie says prevent water pollution”.
The statue was a success, establishing Kenora as a must-see stop on the tourism roadmap. “Anyone traveling by car through Canada must pass our symbol,” Marcino reportedly said.
Husky the Muskie has remained a key part of Kenora’s tourism strategy. In 1995, Ross Kehl of Perma-Flex Systems restored the statue after the color faded and the fiberglass cracked. The latest restoration aims to reaffirm Kenora as a tourist hotspot.