On July 16th, 1974, a giant western painted turtle stood upright at his new home on the corner of Mill Road and Mountain Street on the south side of Boissevain.

Tommy Turtle the 22-foot-tall reptile with the bright orange belly has brought smiles to thousands of faces, young and old, over the past 50 years.

50 years!

However, Tommy the Turtle is more than just fiberglass, resin, and paint. He's Boissevain's beloved mascot standing as a sentinel guard over the residents of this southwestern town.

Here are a few fun facts about Tommy the Turtle:

For $9,000 Tommy was built by Winnipeg company, Barone Sculptures, which is the same company who sculpted the 15-foot-tall Gimli Viking and Flin Flon's funny fellow, Flinty.

Another amazing fact is that CJRB Radio gave Tommy the Turtle his voice, by funding the equipment necessary to broadcast from his mouth.  Tommy's voice was recorded by CJRB's on-air hockey broadcaster, Ivan Strain!

Which brings me to the next celebration of Boissevain, and this goes hand in hand with our beloved Tommy, and that's the signature event that was once known around the world as the only turtle race in Canada!

In 1972, a team from Souris cheered their painted turtle, Big Mama, on to cross the finish line in just 39.6 seconds.  This would launch the Annual Canadian Turtle Derby, a competition that would see crowds travel in from all over to watch these turtles hobble their way to claim the gold title of that year. 

By 1976 over 4,000 spectators attended this tremendous turnout of turtle-watching tourists joining the locals that would put Boissevain on the map for the next 25 years.  In time animal activists began to voice their concern over the hot concrete conditions of the turtle race, and the effect the hot July sun and the loud cheering would have on our green-shelled friends.

This is when event co-chairs, Ivan Strain and Wayne Pringle, together with their committee had to make some tough decisions.

On Saturday afternoon, July 14th, 2001, the Canadian Turtle Derby would crown their final winner. It was a sad day for the town of Boissevain to close this pretty incredible chapter of their history.

Here we are back in 2024 and the Boissevain Wildlife Museum is putting together a special tribute to Tommy the Turtle and all his little buddies who raced in the annual turtle derby for those 30 years.

Executive Assistant for Boissevain-Morton, Melissa Perkins, says there are going to be some pretty cool exhibits at the museum with more celebrations coming up over the summer months.

"It's pretty amazing," says Perkins. "We've got some of the locals that were involved right from the start who had this vision to have some sort of iconic landmark here for Boissevain, and they got it up and running!"  

"It was quite a big ordeal at the time to get something like that done," notes Perkins. "And he's become this icon known far and wide - all over the world as Tommy Turtle, and here we are 50 years later celebrating his 50th birthday!"

"You know, for 50 he still looks pretty good! People are stopping by daily all year round to take their photos with him in town, or as they're passing through town," she adds. "Yes, he is such an integral part of our community history here. It's pretty amazing!"

When talking about the turtle races, Perkins says at one-point Boissevain's turtle derby was the largest in North America.

"There is quite a significant history with the turtle derby as well," she adds. "It was certainly an international attraction.  I've been hearing all sorts of stories and all sorts of pieces of the history of that.  And that's another exhibit you can check out when you come down to the Wildlife Museum this summer.  And you'll be seeing more and more as we pay tribute to that as well."