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Cultures, Communities and Design

(Not Just) Another Roadside Attraction: Documenting Roadside Sculpture to Explore Local History and Identity in Southern Alberta
K. Do
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm


Vernacular cultural landscapes have been extensively studied to inform our understanding and appreciation of everyday life. Regardless of their perceived aesthetic qualities, all vernacular landscapes are worthy of study and can offer insight into the history and values of a culture. As an established area of inquiry, vernacular landscape study has yielded research topics that ranges from mundane to eclectic, including cemeteries, folk housing, and grain elevators. However, roadside attractions are seldom acknowledged as a type of vernacular cultural landscape. There exists a body of literature about related topics, like roads, signs, and roadside architecture, but nothing substantial about roadside attractions. Though some books and essays address roadside attractions in the United States and Australia, none provide a complete survey of all the attractions in one area or discuss at length their significance to a place. To that, there is even less literature about Canadian roadside attractions. Alberta is replete with them, but the only resources that currently exist are incomplete records on hobbyist websites and in locally published books that tout these structures as “weird” or “whacky.” By using a blend of techniques from cultural landscape studies and material culture theory to formally document the roadside attraction, this thesis seeks to champion its merits as worthy elements of the vernacular landscape. This study investigates the relationship between the attraction’s spatial characteristics, social function, local perceptions, and history to provide a methodology for reading and understanding this type of vernacular cultural landscape. The final contribution of this work is a free public tool that academics and enthusiasts can use to learn more about this phenomenon in Alberta and continue future research.


Karly Do is a Master of Environmental Design candidate at the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape (MEDes ’22). She also holds Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA ’20) and a Bachelor of Science (BSc ’16) degrees from the University of Calgary. Like her academic background, Karly’s interests span a variety of disciplines, from urban design to cultural landscape studies to material culture. During her time as a graduate student at the University of Calgary, she has had the opportunity to explore these interests by contributing to several research projects focused on the design and built history of neighbourhoods in Calgary. Following the completion of the MEDes program, Karly plans on pursuing licensure and eventually a PhD in the hopes of becoming a practitioner and professor of landscape history and urban design.