Gopher Hole Museum

For approximately every three people in the village of Torrington, Alberta, there is one stuffed gopher in its museum. And that’s not even counting the live ones outside! Impressive, isn’t it?

This community of about 200 people hosts thousands of annual visitors, all thanks to the fabulous residents who decided it would be a good idea to stuff more than 70 Richardson’s ground squirrels, dress them up in little costumes, and display them without apology in over 40 little dioramas depicting everyday scenes such as a sandblasting workshop or a bank robbery.

The experience of entering the exhibition is like going to any other museum. The lighting is dim and there is a sense of awe and reverence. Depending on who’s in there with you (for there’s not much space) you may notice hushed silence, stifled giggling, or all out laughter. It’s like people’s brains go into stun mode because they just can’t reconcile the absurdity mixed with fascination, confusion, hilarity, appreciation, and confusion again. “Why on earth does this exist?” you ask.

And why am I here, looking at it?

You don’t know whether to feel guilty or proud of yourself for visiting this incredible Monument To The Weird. And if you happen to make eye contact with other visitors, like I did, you probably share the same baffled expression, pleading with each other to make sense of what you’re experiencing. But there’s no going back. The world has now been divided into us and them, and for better or worse, you’ve become part of the elite who have visited the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. You’ve looked at every diorama, read every speech bubble taped lovingly to the gopher’s furry little mouths, admired the rare albino and black specimens of vermin, and possibly danced around wearing the helmet of the community’s mascot Clem T. GoFur.

Howdy, pard’ner!

One thing I want to point out is how incredibly difficult it can be to make a convincing diorama. Perspective, vanishing points, and tiny little handmade objects all have to work together along with the piece de resistance.

Like a gopher playing a trombone.

So hats off to Shelley Barkman, the woman who had the fortitude and skill to paint all the backdrops for these displays. Without her and the others who took such care and attention to detail the museum would probably be a sad and scary place.

Instead, we can admire the craftsmanship of tiny fake manure.

The museum perfectly straddles the line between sublime and vulgar. And that’s my kind of place to be!


To top off your visit there is, naturally, a gift shop where you will find various gopher-related memorabilia. My favourite was a Tshirt of two dining gophers with one of them saying “Boy, I’m stuffed.” Classic. You can also find quality knitted items like sweaters and children’s clothes all made by local grandmas who can probably knit with one hand behind their backs.

This museum is so bad, it’s good. I just didn’t want to leave.

The Gopher Hole Museum is open June 1st to September 30th. Admission was only $2.00 for adults, $0.50 for kids under 14.