Everyone Loves Roadside Attractions!

He spent 17 years building a website for roadside attractions, but died before he could make his dream road trip

Unlike the roadside attractions he catalogued, Ed Solonyka was not attention-seeking. He worked for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, was slightly taller than the national average, and had a moustache from the time he could grow one.

During a family vacation in the early 1990s, the Sudbury geologist became fascinated with the monuments that interrupted the Canadian landscape. The internet was young and Ed, then in his 40s, made a website chronicling roadside attractions, like the big nickel in his hometown. People sent along their photos, and it became a never-ending census that captured monuments like the Wawa goose, and more obscure finds like the “World’s Largest Endangered Ferruginous Hawk,” in Leader, Sask.

In January 2015, I emailed Solonyka, believing his site could be a way into a series about small towns: “That sounds like a dream project,” he replied promptly. “Unfortunately I have a cold presently, however perhaps sometime later this week or next week I’ll be in touch to arrange a time.”

The series didn’t happen, and this summer, I noticed Solonyka’s website had changed. It looked modern, and there was a note:

“For more than 17 years, Ed regularly maintained and updated the site, which is now the authoritative list of large roadside attractions in Canada … For some of us, the challenge was to find a roadside attraction not yet listed on the site — take the photo and send it to Ed to be added to the list. And it was fascinating to keep track of the expanding list of roadside attractions — even, and perhaps especially, those that we weren’t likely to see in real life.

“On December 19, 2015, Ed passed away.

“This website will goes on, in memory of Ed.”

When people travelled by rail and stage coach in the 1890s, “roadside attractions” were lakes, villages, and even a patch of finely cut grass. One of the earliest references in the age of the automobile was a pile of stones stacked in an Illinois field and noted in Bloomington’s Pantagraph newspaper in 1924. By the time Ed Solonyka was born in Winnipeg in 1946, the car was king, and communities throughout North America were building more showy displays of local pride, using concrete, wood and steel.

David Stymeist, a retired anthropology professor from the University of Manitoba, spent many summers in the ’90s living in his van as he drove across Canada to research the folk art phenomenon, speaking to people about their town’s giant coffee cup or Plexiglas mosquito. He often turned to Solonyka’s site. “I found things I didn’t know about or wouldn’t have ever found,” he says.

He found monuments weren’t as abundant in southern Ontario, but they appeared more frequently on the edge of the Canadian Shield, and into northern Ontario. The “true heartland” was the prairies. Some were made by professional artists, others by locals, and they were a part of the Canadian consciousness in a way that hadn’t happened in the U.S. They were affirmations — a sign of settlement, history, economy and achievement, but sometimes they were contested symbols, and occasionally people got mad about all the money being spent.

Take the pysanka in Vegreville, Alta., for instance. Its construction in the 1970s was delayed and people began to criticize the cost. “There were rumours that some local youth were planning to blow up the partially constructed statue with dynamite, and the project’s designer began to spend nights at the site to ward off an attack,” Stymeist wrote in the Journal of Canadian Studies in 2012.

Ed Solonyka, who grew up in a Ukrainian family, had a soft spot for that big Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with equilateral triangles and stars. (“The first computer modelling of an egg,” the town website notes, calling it one of the “premier tourist attractions on the Yellowhead Highway.”)

Solonyka studied at the University of Manitoba before moving to Toronto to work in geology and mining. That’s where he met Phil Hum, who would steer him toward the world of web design when the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines relocated to Sudbury in the 1990s.



Everyone Loves Roadside Attractions!

Across Canada, there are hundreds of large and interesting roadside attractions. For almost 20 years, this site has been dedicated to cataloguing our nation’s large roadside attractions.

Send us your photos of any roadside attractions that we have not yet listed. Send us better photos of roadside attractions that we already have. Send us any better info you may have about any of the roadside attractions — including their history and their exact location (GPS coordinates, if you have them). And let us know if any of the roadside attractions are gone and need to be archived.

Want to see what we’re up to, and what’s new on the site? Check out our blog , the What’s New page, our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.

Music Music did this year's ago with a show called Really Big Things.
Quote: Originally Posted by petros View Post

Music Music did this year's ago with a show called Really Big Things.

Not being a TV watcher I can't say I've ever heard of that show but if you come across something of interest send it in to them.

I recall reading years ago about all the little towns and farms being flooded over when they expanded the St Lawrence

The Lost Villages - The Canadian Encyclopedia

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