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January 15, 2005

Giants of the Prairies

In Vegreville, Alberta there's a giant pysanka *,
It's the biggest Easter egg that anybody ever saw.
The questions folks up there won't answer, even if you beg,
"Where the heck's the chicken that laid that giant egg?"

* pysanka: A Ukrainian Easter egg

The lyrics are from the song "Giants of the Prairies", by the Kubasonics. The Kubasonics are a band from the Canadian Prairies, who play a unique blend of Ukrainian-Country-Polka music. In Canada you can listen to CBC Radio, which is a national public radio station, and as part of its efforts to promote "Can-Con" (Canadian content), CBC Radio takes it upon itself to play semi-obscure Canadian music. At some point the swinging sounds of "Giants of the Prairies" landed on my mother's ear, and soon after she presented me with a gift of the album of the same name.

In Komarno, Manitoba, they built a big komar *,
It's a really big mosquito, you can see it from afar.
Now you might find that strange, a little wierd, a bit absurd,
Til you realize the mosquito is Manitoba's Provincial bird **

* komar: mosquito
** it's not, actually

From the liner notes: "At one time the largest things on the Canadian prairie were grain elevators and the onion domes of Ukrainian churches. Now they are being replaced by a new generation of roadside giants, which we celebrate in this song. Just the tune for planning your next road trip."

In Saskatchewan's Canora, there's a lady mighty fine,
She's holding bread and salt, a Ukarainian welcome sign.
They thought that giant lady would bring their town some class,
Til some tourist parked his Winnebago underneath her...skirt.

So after listening to this song a few times, I started to wonder. Do these things really exist? Perhaps, just maybe, someone would have dedicated a website to them.

In Glendon, Alberta, they pay homage to our food,
They don't call it a varennyk *, but some people think they should.
Now I really must admit I felt a little like a dork,
Wen they took my picture under a big pyrogy on a fork!

* varennyk: The Ukrainian word for the filled dumplings also known as perogies, pyrogys, etc.

Ha! Someone, indeed, or perhaps some many people. There's the Big Things website, which categorizes them by province, subject, and artist. Man, oh man. "Giants of the Prairies" is barely scratching the surface. I think Alberta has more Giant Useless Objects than it has curling rinks (which is saying a lot). Vegreville not only has its Easter Egg (which evidently is some kind of mathematical marvel), it also gets a giant elk. And Big Things lists Komarno's mosquito, Canora's Ukrainian gal, and of course Glendon's mighty pyrogy.

In the town of Vilna, they've got some giant 'shrooms,
Even if you dried them, they'd fill many, many rooms.
Now if you want my opinion, I think you'd need a tanker,
To truck in enough cream to make a sauce for those pidpen'ky *.

* pidpen'ky: wild mushrooms, often served with a cream sauce

But Big Things is not the only site to celebrate these things. There's also Roadside Attractions, which shows the big ol' mushrooms in Vilna. Vilna is in Alberta, so they also show up on the Alberta Big Tour website (right here, in fact. Note to website author: the moving graphic is nice, but drawings don't really cut it here...a drawing of a 20-foot-high mushroom really looks a lot like a drawing of a 2-inch-high mushroom. PICTURES capture it a bit better).

In the town of Andrew they've got a giant duck.
They had to rent a crane to get that mallard off the truck.
Now it hasn't generated the reaction they were hoping,
The tourists mostly stop and yell "Nai tebe kachka kopne!" *

* Nai tebe kachka kopne: A Ukrainian curse meaning "A pox on you!", but literally translated as "May a duck kick you!"

We're hitting the big time...the duck is up on the World's Largest Roadside Attractions page. Actually WLRA seems to be lacking in completeness; it doesn't include the mighty Wahpper, a giant catfish in Wahpeton, North Dakota that I actually personally visited on a cross-country drive. The Wahpper link is on the Titans of the North page, which claims "North Dakota and Minnesota boast the densest population of giant animals anywhere on earth" -- a dubious statement if I ever saw one.

Now in Mundare, Alberta there's a new totemic sign,
For Ukrainian sausage lover's, it's like a sacred shrine.
We bow down low before it, we gave at it in awe,
It's a fourteen-metre fiberglass and steel kubasa *.

* kubasa: the Ukrainian word for garlic sausage (aka kielbasa in other languages)

(A picture? Oh yes, there's a picture). Brian Cherwick, the leader of the Kubasonics, looks like he belongs behind a counter selling garlic sausage, instead of being on stage singing about it, but as you listen to him reverently croon the previous lines you can get a glimpse beyond the goofballness to some true cultural nostalgia. It turns out that he has a Ph.D. from the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba, titled "Polkas on the Prairies: Ukrainian Music and the Construction of Identity"? I'm not making this up -- the Ph.D., or the Centre for Ukranian Canadian Studies. Here is proof, I tell you. And they say a Ph.D. only leads to an academic life...

Giants of the Prairies!

(all lyrics by B. Cherwick, SOCAN)

Posted by AdamBa at January 15, 2005 10:14 PM

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