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Tommy the Turtle greets visitors to the small town of Boissevain, Manitoba, with American and Canadian flags in hand. The idea for Tommy the Turtle came to the Boissevain Chamber of Commerce in 1969 as a way to attract tourists and represent the Turtle Mountain area.
But the giant roadside attraction wasn’t built until years later, when the Turtle Derby Committee decided to fund its construction at a cost of $9,000. He was unveiled in the summer of 1974 during the third Canadian Turtle Derby. His builder, sculptor George Barone, used fiberglass and resin to create the 28-foot-tall reptile.
The Canadian Turtle Derby started in Boissevain, a town with a population of about 1,500 people that’s just a 20-minute drive from the United States-Canada border. The race was originally a private race among a few locals. The race grew in popularity, however, and the Molson Brewing company even donated an electric starting gate, which is said to be the very first one ever used in turtle racing. Just over 80 turtles raced in the 1973 event, and by 1983 there were almost 450.
Boissevain held the official Derby for 30 years, with the final race in 2001. That same year, Tommy the Turtle was repainted to his former glory.