There are many ways to become famous, either as a person or a place. You can do something heroic like Oskar Schindler and save hundreds of lives, you could be Ernest Jackson and make the Grey Cup winning catch in overtime, you could be a great actress like Meryl Streep, you could even just have a rich family as Paris Hilton does. If it is a place it could have danger involved, think of Mount Everest, it could have incredible physical beauty – Niagara Falls or have unusual rock formations – the Giant’s Causeway. No matter what causes the fame it is unlikely that that was the original goal- to become famous. That, however, was not the goal of today’s subject.
Twenty-two years ago the community of Torrington, Alberta was given $10000.00 by the provincial government. “The one before the NDP.” They had to do something with the money as a community. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine most of the 179 residents sat around the pub of the Torrington Hotel discussing how to spend the money . After, I don’t know, maybe ten beer each, Otto (more on Otto later) says, “Hey, I got an idea. Let’s build a gopher hole museum.” Bunty, then just a spry 73 year old spring chicken with flaming red hair (still red today at 94) says “That’s a great idea Otto. I’m sure we can get 5 years out of that concept.” And so is born the world famous Torrington Gopher Hole Museum at the junction of highways 27 and 805, still there after a very successful 21 years.
Torrington is on the road to Trochu, home to Terry’s aunt, various cousins and, of course, Henry’s Shoes, so we pass it every time we go to visit. Terry has taken Joe and Sam to visit it but we have never stopped – until yesterday. I had checked the website and it is only open in the summer, but I wanted a photo of it anyway, so on our way back to Calgary yesterday we took the two block detour to do that. Clearly we live right and are truly good people because just as we pull up the door opens and there is Otto “ Just call me Crazy Otto.” We ask if he is open and he says “Sure, I’ll open for you two.” He turns on the lights and I ask if I can take some pictures. “Sure, if you give me $2.00 each.” He immediately points to a sign that says admission is $2 unless you are under 13 in which case it is free. I think he didn’t want us thinking he was ripping us off!
There are 8 people now involved in the running of it (Maybe the other 171 people didn’t like the idea?). It is quite the place. Last August they had 2500 visitors. I’m not sure exactly how many dioramas there are – these aren’t all of them though. Let me show you some.
(Ed. Note: All the gophers are actually stuffed according to the official taxidermy rules. None were hurt in the processing since they were already dead. For those of you who believe this is wrong, you clearly haven’t lived to see the damage they can do, when alive, to crops.)
Be sure to check out the little speech bubbles.
Celebrating Canada 150
This one was a result of someone in the US phoning and threatening to come and picket and protest. Otto was disappointed they never showed up. However it did generate a lot of publicity for them, which was all good.
This one depicts the actual restaurant in town, eh.
This is the one Crazy Otto did. It is his fishing hole with one of his fishing ties. The woman who paints the backdrops said she couldn’t paint.
This diorama travelled to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics
These murals were done by a guy who used to work for Disney Studios. According to Otto, it took him about 10 cases of beer. Sometime after it was finished, he was at home, had a few pops, fell down his basement stairs, broke his neck and that was that.
Geoff and Crazy Otto – neither of the first two of me are any good, but what the heck…and no, I hadn’t been drinking.
Finally, I do really like this one. That head is heavy and Crazy Otto has to wear it every year in the parade!