Arts·Big Things

In 1974 Vegreville, Alberta's big egg was a technological breakthrough (and the Queen liked it too!)

World-first computer modelling went into building this giant Ukrainian Easter egg — then the Queen visited.

World-first computer modelling went into building this giant Ukrainian Easter egg — then the Queen visited

If there's one thing Albertans do even better than huge trucks and grain elevators, it's making massive monuments for little places. Follow Tamarra Canu on her summer Albertan road trip as she travels her province to find out what these big things meant to the small towns that call them home.

In this episode of Big Things Small Towns, Tamarra heads to Vegreville, Alberta, a town known for its rich Ukrainian heritage and, of course, the "World's Largest Ukrainian Easter Egg" — an object so unique that the Queen herself came to small town Alberta just to see it.

Vegreville, Alberta's giant egg required mathematical, architectural and engineering firsts to build from 3500 aluminum pieces. Big Things Small Towns checks out the massive landmark. 5:30

Truly one of Alberta's most beautiful and artistically innovative massive objects, the egg is a spectacle made by a huge team of people. Paul Sembaliuk was the project lead and designer of the Vegreville pysanka. He was originally commissioned to create a monument to the RCMP. He proposed the idea of the huge egg, then put the team into place to make it happen. It was Sembaliuk's concept, pattern, colours and motifs. Dr. Ron Resch was the mathematical engineer who made the egg a structurally possible project, by working with his team of MIT grad students to formulate an equation. Eric Schmidt sourced the NASA manufacturer of anodized aluminum triangles (the same material used on the space shuttle's belly). And it was Sembaliuk who recognized the egg could be a weather vane and sourced the old Navy gun turret upon which it was mounted. On the egg's 40th anniversary, Sembaliuk was recognized by the town of Vegreville for his monumental contribution. Without his dream of making the world's largest pysanka, there would be no egg in Vegreville.

Big Things, Small Towns had the opportunity to meet with a few who were around from the day the idea was born to the ribbon cutting at its reveal. In the video above, see the story of its creation, learn how its design stays true to authentic pysanka tradition and hear about the architectural, mathematical and engineering firsts that used early computer modelling technology to build the egg from 3500 aluminum pieces.

The pysanka Ukrainian Easter eggs that Vegreville's giant egg honours.

Built: 1974
Height: 9m
Width: 5m
Material: 3,500 aluminum pieces
Weight: 1,360kg
Hours spent: 12,000
*Also a weather vane

The innovative computer modelling used to build Vegreville's egg from 3500 aluminum pieces.

About Big Things Small Towns

At one time, the largest things spreading across the Canadian prairies were grain elevators and Ukrainian church domes, but in the 1990s, citizens of small towns began building their own roadside giants. Some relevant to the times, some questionably random and some still popping up today.

The Queen visiting Vegreville's egg in 1978.

On Big Things Small Towns we visit six of Alberta's most legendary locations:

  • Drumheller! The "World's Largest Dinosaur" takes you back to prehistoric times. Plus, you can see how it and many other dinos are made.
  • Falher! You'll celebrate the "World's Largest Bee" in more ways than one (including witnessing Tamarra facing one of her biggest fears by participating in their annual bee beard spectacle).
  • Vegreville! You'll find out why the "World's Largest Pysanka" (or painted egg) is truly unique from creation to design.
  • Glendon! Tamarra's headed to take a bite out of its world-famous perogy and discover how the monument may have saved the town itself.
  • Donalda! The "World's Largest Oil Lamp" has been lighting the way for tourists to discover the beauty within the walls of the town.
  • Medicine Hat! This town celebrates Indigenous art and identity with the spectacular Saamis Tepee that celebrates culture, history and the legacy of the Calgary Olympics.

You get to see these objects and the diverse Alberta landscape through the lens of spectacular drone visuals while you learn about Alberta's rich history and, more importantly, start planning your own road trip. Check back for more Big Things Small Towns over the next few weeks.

Special thanks to The Kubasonics for their song Giants of the Prairies. Graphics and poster designed by Chris Brodt.

About the Author

Tamarra Canu is a freelance filmmaker, recently a grant recipient to produce her film The Act of Being Normal. She was Additional Camera and Production Assistant for Vital Bonds on CBC's The Nature of Things and Production Coordinator for CBC's Equus- Story of the Horse. She began her career at CBC News Edmonton as Associate Producer and is proud to be able to keep telling stories for the CBC.