CBC Digital Archives

St. Thomas' Jumbo the Elephant

A giant hockey stick. A big nickel. An historic covered bridge. A history-changing oil well. People pass by these attractions all the time on their travels throughout Canada. Sometimes, tourists trek for days to just to catch a glimpse. Some attractions are monumental, others merely quirky. They are all the stuff of local legend. CBC Digital Archives goes province to province to admire the big things in our big country.

St. Thomas, Ont. will never forget Sept. 15, 1885, the day Jumbo the Elephant died. Jumbo was a beloved performer, headliner of the traveling Barnum & Bailey Circus. When a train hit him that fateful eve, the pachyderm became a local legend. Now, 100 years later, St. Thomas is getting ready to welcome another Jumbo, a life-sized memorial of the original. As this 1985 clip from The National shows, some of the funds needed to build the massive statue are coming from the sale of Indiana Jones-style hats.
• Jumbo was an African elephant born in 1861 in the French Sudan (now Mali). At age four he was exported to France and two years later he was sent to the London Zoo. According to the Mysteries of Canada website, in 1882 he began to "act up" and was sold for $10,000 to the "Greatest Show on Earth", the Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York City. Jumbo settled down and went on the road as the show's new headliner.
  • The night he died, Jumbo was one of just two elephants (Tom Thumb, the smallest elephant, was the other) in the Barnum show that had not yet been led from the big top to their waiting railway cars. An unscheduled express train was unable to stop and knocked Tom Thumb down a steep embankment. Jumbo couldn't run because he was caught between the embankment and circus train. He was hit from the rear and the train was derailed. His skull was reportedly broken in over a hundred places.

• Jumbo's skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, his heart was sold to Cornell University and his hide was stuffed and traveled with the circus until Barnum donated it to Tufts University, where it remained until it was destroyed by a fire in 1975. Jumbo's tail survived the fire and in stored in the school's archives. He was given the honour of being named the school's mascot, a tribute that stands to this day.

• P.T. Barnum, a master of publicity, generated such hype with Jumbo that his name became synonymous with gigantic things, such as hot dogs and even airplanes: the Boeing 747 became known as the "jumbo jet."

• As noted in the clip, the statue of Jumbo was built to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of his death at the Woodworth Ave. railway crossing.

• Jumbo's statue was made in New Brunswick and designed by Winston Bronnum, who also designed other well-known New Brunswick attractions, including the Maugerville Potato, the St. John Horse, the Penobsquis Mule, the Cow Bay Moose and the Shediac Lobster and Fisherman.

• The Jumbo statue weighs 38 tons and stands in a base that weighs 100 tons. It is made of concrete with steel reinforcing rods. As this clip notes, it was constructed in New Brunswick. To make the 1,722-kilometre (1,070-mile) trip to St. Thomas possible, the upper legs and body were poured separately from the lower legs and base.

Ontario is home to hundreds of large roadside attractions. They include:

• Birchbark Sign in Algonquin Park
• Spirit Catcher in Barrie
• World's Largest Snowman in Beardmore
• Northern Ontario Logging Memorial in Blind River
• Buckhorn Buck in Buckhorn
• Chimo the Polar Bear in Cochrane
Big Apple in Colborne
• Loonie in Echo Bay
• Two-Man Crosscut Saw in Hearst
Husky the Muskie in Kenora
• Miners Memorial in Kirkland Lake
Tomato-Shaped Information Booth in Leamington
• Big Joe Muffraw in Mattawa
• Voyageur in Mattice
• Floral Clock in Niagara Falls
• Mammoth Cheese in Perth
• The Wall (World's Largest Photo Mosaic) in Port Carling
• Moose Cow and Calf in Sault Ste. Marie
The Big Nickel in Sudbury
• Mosquito Carrying a Man in Upsala
• Canada Goose in Wawa
• Thermometer in White River
• Wiarton Willie (groundhog) in Wiarton
• King and Queen sculptures in Windsor
• Springbank Snow Countess (cow) in Woodstock

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Jan. 15, 1985
Guest(s): Bill Gaunce, Bob Stollery, Doug Tarry
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Dan Bjarnason
Duration: 3:42

Last updated: September 28, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Supersized Sights of Canada

A giant hockey stick. A big nickel. An historic covered bridge. A history-changing oil well. P...

Glooscap statue for the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scoti...

The grand chief that watches over the Mi'kmaq people of the Maritimes is immortalized with a s...

Winnipeg's lucky Timothy Eaton statue

Winnipeggers react with anger when their legendary Timothy Eaton statue is slated to move.

Canada's trees: Carver turns blight into beau...

A Halifax artist makes carvings out of leftover stumps in Point Pleasant Park.

Louis Riel: A new statue in Manitoba

The provincial legislature unveils a new, dignified statue of Riel to replace the controversia...

Kenora's Husky the Muskie

Husky the Musky is due for repairs, and Kenora, Ont. is happy to foot the bill.