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World Famous Gopher Hole Museum (2015)

by on 2015/09/13

Two stuffed gophers sharing a romantic moment under the moonlight“Hello World! We are the Gophers of Torrington, Alberta, Canada!”

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I grew up in a little settlement about 45-minutes away from Peace River in northern Alberta. My childhood home, Judah, Alta., was once designated a hamlet until our grain elevator burned to the ground.

Later, when someone shot down the Judah sign, we became nothing more than a loosely-affiliated collection of farm houses, trailers, granaries, livestock and rusted propane tanks.

Hamlet or no, inside our plywood and aluminium sliding-covered walls there were complex inner lives and tragicomic stories playing out. You can’t ever accuse rural, backwater folks of being dull. (You really can’t, let me tell you).

That’s exactly what the documentary co-directors Chelsea McMullan and Douglas Nayler so deftly captured in their 20-minute documentary The World Famous Gopher Hole Museum, a film about a quirky, quaint museum located in Torrington, Alta.

Torrington is a hamlet 160 kilometres northeast of Calgary. This agricultural settlement’s main tourist attraction is the Gopher Hole Museum, a small wooden building filled with dioramas of taxidermied gophers (or Richardson’s ground squirrels as the Torrington Wikipedia entry sternly corrects) dressed like residents posed at town landmarks like the local church, diner, hair salon and hockey rink.

The Gopher Hole Museum was once apparently protested by PETA – what with all the dead animals on display – prompting the caretakers to respond to the animal rights organization with a two-word postcard, “Get Stuffed.”

This documentary is a piece of pure, unadulterated Canadiana as carefully woven as the crochet and knitted items sold in the Gopher Museum gift shop. McMullan and Nayler cradled the subject matter (and subjects of their film) as carefully as one might cradle a fragile, stuffed gopher in one’s palms.

My highly-attuned (Prairie, insecure rural-type) senses didn’t detect a whiff of big city types playing ‘let’s make fun of the small town folks’ in this moving, poignant piece of documentary filmmaking.  It also brought to mind other great Canadian films we have reviewed on this site like One Week and Lifelike, which deal with the subjects of weird and wonderful Canadian tourist attractions, and taxidermy respectively.

Which is all to say, I loved it.

Watching The World Famous Gopher Hole Museum during yesterday’s Toronto Film Festival premiere, on a rainy, late night in downtown Toronto, it was a little like going home (minus the gravel roads). Thanks to McMullan and Nayler for that.

We all have our Gopher Hole Museums – our crazy, out-there passions that keep us wanting to get up in the morning. I guess this site is ours.

So we say to Dianne Kurta – we salute you. And as the TIFF programmer said last night, “We think you (Dianne) are pretty great.”

We really do.

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Check out more about this great short film online

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