Gophers traditionally are known as the scourge of Saskatchewan farmers. It’s the rare farm kid that doesn’t go gopher hunting with a pellet gun, and a rare farmer that doesn’t invite even the slightest interested city slicker to join in on the fun.
I hear tell there’s even a farmer in the deep south of Saskatchewan who invites hunters from the U.S. to have their way with the gophers on his farm – and he charges them for the privilege! (Gotta love the ingenuity!).
But there still are a couple of places where the Gopher is revered and not reviled. One such place is Eston, SK (population approx. 1,600).
Eston boasts not only some of the lushest farmland found in Saskatchewan, it also boasts the world’s largest gopher, and plays host each year to the World Gopher Derby (seriously).
Built in 1987, by Saskatoon Sculptor Michael Martin, he’s also the artist that created the Gordie Howe bronze statue that can be found in Saskatoon).
The Gopher stands at an amazing 8 ft (2.4m), and weighs a whopping 3,000 pounds. Made from tyndalstone taken from a Manitoba tyndalstone quarry, which was personally chosen by Martin, it’s probably the only Gopher in the area that farmers will tolerate, and was erected to commemorate the town’s infamous World Gopher Derby.
So what exactly is the World Gopher Derby? Well according to my sources, the World Gopher Derby is run much like a horse race. Eight gophers are selected to run in the prestigious race (not sure if they’re bred for the honour or simply plucked from a nearby field), and are “dumped” onto their track, where they run like the dickens to get to the “light at the end of tunnel,” otherwise known as the “hole.” First one to reach the end, and enter the hole, which then tips the tube down, is declared the winner.
An annual event held every July, just like a horse race you can bet for your gopher to Win, Place, or Show, Daily Double, Exacto, etc. You just hope that your champion of choice doesn’t get performance anxiety and turn back before he reaches his/her destination.
As to whether there’s a place of honour for the winner, high atop a hill where they can lord it over all the other gophers, or whether the winner gets an all access pass to the farmer’s field of his choice is debatable. It will be interesting to see if anyone can help us fill in the gaps and tell us just what does happen to the lucky little devil!
How to Get There: Located at the junction of Highways 44 and 30 in West Central Saskatchewan you can find Eston here on this map. Essentially just head down Hwy 4 from Swift Current, and turn left at Hwy 44 where the sign tells you to.
Gotta Go?: Eston has lots of small businesses and a typical small town friendliness that welcomes anyone who wanders by. The Bakery in particular offers yummy treats you might want to chomp on, if all the Gopher excitement leaves you needing a sugar rush.
Good to Know: Well, you might find this more on a “need to know” basis or even TMI rather than a good to know tidbit – but legend has it that in 2005, the stalwart farmers of Eston posed nude in a fundraising calendar known as the “Real Men of Eston.” It was a 15-month calendar that was produced to raise money for a health centre in the town, and with 550 calendars sold – you’d think I’d be able to find some pictures of it to share with you…but alas, poor Yorick….If you have any photos to share that exposes the truth of the calendar I’d be only too happy to see them…especially if you’ve got the month that features my friend’s uncle – who I hear bared all in his field – thank goodness it was prior to harvest!