He ain’t no steelhead, but Husky the Muskie has bones made of I-beams. The 12-metre fish celebrated 50 years this year on its perch along the Trans-Canada Highway near Kenora, Ont. at Lake of the Woods.
Braden Murray, museum educator at Lake of the Woods Museum, notes that the Trans-Canada highway came through Kenora in 1958, prompting the idea that a big roadside tourist attraction would encourage tourists to stop in the town for a while. Town leaders were thinking of a fish, but Baudette, Minn., also on Lake of the Woods, had built its own monument, Willie the Walleye, in 1959.
"The walleye is tasty and easy to catch, and represents the area’s number one game fish," says Murray.
"At the time, commercial fishing made muskies a very uncommon catch—it was known as ‘the fish of a thousand casts.’ Only the best of the best could catch them and fishing lodges used to advertise in places like Winnipeg, Minneapolis and Chicago with photos of a guy posing with a 60-inch muskie."
The Kenora District Chamber of Commerce devised the idea of building a muskie statue as a 1967 project for Canada’s Centennial. The contract to produce the statue was awarded to Design Signs and Displays and was built by owner Jules Horvath and art director Bob Selway, who designed the character.
"They were originally thinking of placing the statue in the water, but that would have required a lot of maintenance," says Murray.
"Instead they planted a steel I-beam on land in a concrete base at the northernmost part of the Lake of the Woods and then devised the statue in two parts, to hang on both sides of the I-beam."
Museum records show that the finished statue weighed two and a half tons and required "over 1,000 man hours of labour, one ton of steel, 3,500 bolts, 36 sheets of plywood, 500 square feet of fibreglass, 700 lbs. of resin" to complete. Original cost of construction: about $5,000.
A contest to name the statue followed its unveiling on Dominion Day, July 1, 1967. Some of the contenders to name the muskellunge are noted for posterity: Rocky, Lungy, Leaping Lizzie, Peter the Pike, Muskenoza, Moe, Ken-kee, MuskieCen and Welcome Muskie-nora.
"Bill Brabrooke was chosen as the winner, although he wasn’t the only person submitting that entry," says Murray.
"But he sealed the deal by providing the slogan ‘Husky the Muskie says, "Prevent Water Pollution."’ People liked that one because it reminded them of a Smokey the Bear-type slogan like "only you can prevent forest fires."
The April 1996 issue of the Lake of the Woods District Area News notes that Husky’s vivid colouring had faded by that time, so much so that he became unofficially known as "Husky the Perch" by locals.
Ross Kehl of Perma-flex Systems of Kenora undertook repairs, but found that the skeleton of the fish had deteriorated far more than anticipated. A one-month spruce-up beginning in April of that year extended into a seven-month refurbishing project that included replacement of the section of steel beam supporting the head.
Kehl applied rust inhibitor to the rest of the skeleton, then built up the deteriorated exterior with styrofoam and three coats of fibreglass. He also worked with a local taxidermist to provide an accurate colour scheme for the finished work. By the October unveiling, the character, temporarily dubbed "Husky the Tarp," was unveiled to the standards of its former glory.
"Today, the plaque underneath Husky continues to encourage people to prevent water pollution," says Murray.
"He’s still the northern ambassador for environmental responsibility and keeping the lake clean."