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The sublime distraction of Moose Jaw’s moose war

By Lisa Van Dusen      

Amid the current festival of previously unthinkable geopolitical squabbles, the battle for Canada's roadside moose-statue supremacy is one we can all get behind.

Moose Jaw, home of Saskatchewan’s Mac the Moose—who held the Guinness World Record for world’s largest moose statue at 10 metres tall for three decades—is irate at having been usurped by a statue 30 centimetres taller in Norway. Wikimedia photograph courtesy of Johnnyw3
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The bad news is that we live in an age of political disruption so preposterous that Donald Trump is president of the United States, a journalist was dismembered during normally routine diplomatic transactions, and Canadians are being plucked off faraway streets in intimidation abductions.

The good news is that, thanks to social media, we can escape into a vortex of dopamine-driven feedback loops where there are just enough moments of righteous indignation amid the cat videos to legitimize the displacement dividend.

The better news is that the latest mesmerizing, viral conflict is a bilateral war involving escalating provocations and rhetorical artillery fire that pits two great countries against each other in a battle of wills. No, not the diplomatic row between Canada and China over human rights and rule of law; the one between Canada and Norway of actual monumental proportions—in this case, the measurements of giant roadside moose statues.

While Canada’s behaviour in the bilateral standoff with Beijing has been typically restrained, Canadians are actually the belligerents in the battle with Oslo over whose moose is bigger. Moose Jaw, home of Saskatchewan’s world-renowned Mac the Moose—who held the Guinness World Record for world’s largest moose statue at 10 metres tall for three decades—is irate at having been usurped by Storelgen, a pretender of reflective disco steel 30 centimetres taller, which stands outside Stor-Elvdal.

Comedy team Justin Reeves and Greg Moore have launched a trash-talking, shade-throwing campaign against Storelgen that includes a YouTube shot across Norway’s bow describing the erection of the upstart alces alces as “an egregious offence” against the people of Moose Jaw (who presumably are not terribly hypersensitive to egregious offences or would move to somewhere with a less oddball name, like Eyebrow, 70 kilometres north).

For Moose Javians, the status of being home to the world’s tallest moose statue is no small thing, since aside from being a training base for NATO pilots and home to the Royal Canadian Air Force acrobatic squad the Snowbirds, being the birthplace of the late quizzmaster Art Linkletter doesn’t bring in the rubberneckers the way being the birthplace of the late quizzmaster Monty Hall surely does for Winnipeg or being the birthplace of very much alive quizzmaster Alex Trebek does for Sudbury. (Given Canada’s apparent disproportionate output of game show hosts, perhaps Moose Jaw should just open a Canadian Game Show Host Hall of Fame, complete with a Howie Mandel Ball Pit).

Moose Jaw Mayor Fraser Tolmie told The New York Times last week that the city takes the challenge personally. “There are some things that you just don’t do to Canadians: You don’t water down our beer, you don’t tell us we can’t put maple syrup on our pancakes, and you don’t mess with Mac the Moose.”

While the circumpolar showdown has now moved into a strategic debate about how to add altitude to Mac’s official height, appealing to the cultural currency of the moose as one of Canada’s national animals may not carry the weight it would if, a) the moose were not also one of Norway’s national animals and, b) Melita, Man., were not home to the world’s largest freestanding banana.

On Jan. 21, Tolmie read a statement on behalf of Mac at a Moose Jaw news conference in which he vowed to reclaim the title. “This is not a size issue,” Tolmie said, thankfully using his own voice rather than channelling Bullwinkle. “It’s a pride issue.”

“When you mess with the moose,” he added with just a tinge of polite Canadian reproach, “you get the antlers.”

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and was a Washington and New York-based editor at UPI, AP, and ABC. She writes a weekly column for The Hill Times.

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