About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”
Maybe you’ve ascended the CN Tower, visited roaring Niagara Falls or hiked through Algonquin Park, but have you spied a UFO, giant elephant or big apple as you’ve explored the province? If you want to experience some lesser-known attractions, Ontario’s small towns offer an array of kooky and quirky monoliths that make for a fun pit stop on your next road trip. If you happen to be driving by, here are five roadside attractions worth stopping to see up close.
The Wawa Goose
The Canada goose may be a common sight in parks and waterways around the country, but the Wawa Goose — standing 28 feet tall — is unique to the community of Wawa in Algoma Country. Back in 1960, the final section of Hwy. 17 in Ontario was completed, but it bypassed Wawa’s downtown core, so a local entrepreneur came up with the idea to create a local attraction. Wawa means “wild goose” or “land of the big goose” in Ojibwe. The Wawa Goose came to life with plaster and chicken wire (which was replaced with steel in 1963). In 2017, the town unveiled a brand-new Wawa Goose for Canada’s 150th birthday.
To get there: You’ll easily spot the Wawa Goose (no binoculars required) at the intersection of Hwy. 17 and Hwy. 101, at the entrance to the town of Wawa (about 250 kilometres from Sault Ste. Marie). To get there from Toronto, take Hwy. 400 north to where it merges with Hwy. 69. In Sudbury, turn west onto Hwy. 17 and continue toward Wawa. You will want to make this attraction part of a longer journey as the drive to Wawa is about 10 hours from Toronto.
The Moonbeam UFO
There doesn’t seem to be consensus on how this remote community in northern Ontario along Hwy. 11 got its name. Legend has it that pioneers saw “moonbeams” falling from the night sky (likely the Northern Lights). Later, in the 1960s, there were several claims of alien sightings and crop circles in the area. So, the Town of Moonbeam decided to embrace its history and erect a giant flying saucer at the entrance to the town (complete with a friendly alien at its visitor’s centre). Fun fact: Moonbeam is referenced in the Tragically Hip song “Fly.”
To get there: The town is located near Kapuskasing, on Highway 11. Just look for the flying saucer off the highway. From Toronto, you follow Hwy. 400 north to where it merges onto Hwy. 11 and continue from there. The drive takes roughly eight and a half hours.
Jumbo the Elephant was a male African bush elephant born in 1860 in Sudan that was exhibited at zoos in Paris and London. So why does a small town in Ontario have a life-size monument to this pachyderm? Jumbo became the star of P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, standing 12 feet tall and weighing seven tonnes. In 1885, the travelling circus was in St. Thomas, when Jumbo was struck and killed by a Grand Trunk locomotive. In 1985, 100 years later, a life-sized statue was erected in the town to commemorate the centennial of Jumbo’s death.
To get there: St. Thomas is a two-hour drive southwest from Toronto. Exit Hwy. 401 west onto Route 4 (Sunset Drive). In town, take a left on Talbot Street, where it’s hard to miss the 12-foot elephant.
If you’re driving between Toronto and Kingston, keep your eyes peeled for a giant red apple — complete with a cartoon happy face. Colborne happens to be one of the largest apple-producing regions in Ontario. Its Big Apple, affectionately known as Mr. Applehead, is a popular roadside attraction built in 1987. The idea was conceived by Australian immigrant George Boycott, who in turn was inspired by the Big Pineapple, a similar roadside attraction back in Australia. You can even go inside Mr. Applehead and climb to the rooftop observation deck; there’s also a restaurant, pie factory, mini-golf course and amusement park. While there, it’s worth sampling a slice of apple pie or picking up a few cans of 401 Cider (made by 401 Brewery).
To get there: Colborne is in Northumberland County, about halfway between Toronto and Kingston and a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the GTA. Take Hwy. 401 east and look for exit 497. You can’t miss Mr. Applehead.
The Campbellford Toonie
A uniquely Canadian currency, the two-dollar coin has its very own monument. Standing 8.2 metres tall and 5.5 metres in diameter, it is in Old Mill Park along the banks of the Trent River in Campbellford. Aside from its scenic location, the Toonie was erected in 2001 to recognize local nature artist Brent Townsend, who was responsible for designing the iconic polar bear image stamped on the coin. Fun fact: After running a Name Our Polar Bear contest, the Royal Canadian Mint named the toonie’s symbol “Churchill.”
To get there: You’ll find the giant toonie in this riverside community about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa. From Toronto, take Hwy. 401 east to Hwy. 30 and follow it north to Campbellford. The drive takes about two hours.
The “Road Trip Radio” podcast explores each of Canada’s provinces and territories with interviews, comedy and adventure stories. In “Rest Stop,” podcast host Anna Holmquist explores the history of various U.S. roadside attractions — from giant milk bottles to the world’s largest peanut. And “Route 66 Road Trips with Roger Taylor” takes you along one of the most famous highways in the world, with its small-town charm, diners and roadside attractions.
COVID-19 need to know
Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Check provincial guidelines before you head out on your road trip (Ontario.ca).