Under the Influence

How one Alberta town attracts both human and non-human visitors

Some small towns find themselves in the middle of nowhere - or are situated off the main highways - and have a difficult time attracting tourists. That’s when they turn to marketing to create landmarks are often quirky, sometimes bizarre and completely unexpected.
(Town of St. Paul)
Listen to the full episode27:28

Some small towns find themselves in the middle of nowhere or are situated off the main highways, and have a difficult time attracting tourists. That's when they turn to marketing to create landmarks are often quirky, sometimes bizarre and completely unexpected.

This week, we explore roadside attractions as marketing. Interesting and often quirky landmarks that put small towns on the map. We'll look at one town that leveraged its name to bring in thousands of TV fans, one that built a giant animal statue to get highway drivers to take a detour and another that built a monument to attract both human and non-human visitors. 27:28

UFO Landing Pad

If you've ever been to St. Paul, Alberta, you've probably visited the town's very unique welcome center.

It's in the shape of a flying saucer. And sits directly adjacent to a massive UFO landing pad.

In 1967, St. Paul made a proposal to the government of Canada to build a 130-ton UFO landing pad as a roadside attraction.

St. Paul, Alta. built a UFO landing pad in the town as a Centennial project in 1967. (CBC News)

Later that same year, the platform was approved and constructed.

The concrete landing pad holds the Guinness World Record for the first UFO landing pad ever built.

The sign at the site says the town hopes "Future travel in space will be safe for all intergalactic beings, and that all visitors from earth or otherwise are welcome to this territory and to the town of St. Paul."

Twenty years later the flying saucer tourist centre was built to welcome human visitors.

The pad was unveiled in 1967 as part of centennial celebrations and continues to attract tourists today. (St. Paul Chamber of Commerce/RM Photography)

The saucer contains an exhibit full of photographs of UFOs, crop circles and other inexplicable phenomena.

The center also has a toll-free hotline for people to report their own UFO sightings – "1-888-See-UFOs" – available to take calls any time - free of judgement.

St. Paul may be a small town in Alberta, but it boasts the first UFO landing pad in the world. Capable of attracting tourists of the human and intergalactic varieties.


The Wawa Goose

Back in the '50s, the community of Wawa, Ontario had a problem.

The Trans-Canada Highway ended abruptly about 100 kilometers away. That meant Wawa couldn't be reached by car.

Which as you can imagine wasn't good for tourism.

Millions of years ago, glaciers had formed a giant rock wall around the area that was deemed impassable. Even the Rocky Mountains were easier to penetrate.

The people of Wawa had to travel in and out of their town in boats, float planes or trains.

Finally, in 1960, the government made it its mission to pass through the impassable rock by blasting through 2 million cubic meters of granite. It was among the most challenging terrain the road engineers had ever come up against.

That year, the Trans-Canada Highway was completed, bridging the long-standing gap between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie. A huge victory for Wawa.

But there was still one problem: The new highway bypassed Wawa's "downtown." Meaning their tourism was still suffering.

The original plaster goose, which many say looks more like a duck, currently resides at Youngs General Store, not from its original perch. (Erik White/CBC)

So a local businessman named Al Turcott came up with anunorthodox solution: To build a roadside attraction of a giant Canada Goose.

Why a goose, you ask? Because "Wawa" is the Ojibwe word for "Wild Goose."

The monument was made of wire and plaster - aimed at getting Trans-Canada Highway drivers to take a detour into downtown Wawa.

But the Goose began to deteriorate in Wawa's cold winters, so a second goose was built in 1963. This time, it was made of steel.

That was a strategic decision. First because steel can withstand harsh Canadian weather. But second because Wawa is home to iron mines. Making a steel Goose even more representative of the community.

The four friends pose in front of the Wawa Goose. (Trans-Canada Fryway)

Soon the 28-foot Goose became one of the most photographed roadside attractions in North America.

Then, after 54 years gracing the entrance to Wawa, the Goose needed a facelift.

In celebration of "Canada 150" – an exact replica of the bird was unveiled. Cost: A cool $300,000.

Each year over 50,000 people stop to gander at the Goose. 

It was a roadside attraction built to solve one specific problem: Getting tourists to stop in Wawa.


For more stories about Roadside Attractions As Marketing, click or tap the "Listen" tab above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.


Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.
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(Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)