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St. Thomas, Ontario - a Jumbo Attraction!

© By Pat Brennan
 

Jumbo is much bigger and stronger than the 46 plough horses competing at the International Ploughing Match here next week, but he's ineligible. That's because Jumbo is an African elephant-a dead African elephant. He died here 125 years ago on Sept. 15.
     Still, Jumbo will be a star at the 98th annual match, which takes place Sept. 21-25 and attracts competitors from England, the United States and across Canada. To prepare for his role in the big agricultural show, Jumbo has just undergone a $60,000 facelift. His life-size statue at the entrance to this town of 36,000 in Elgin County near London tells the sad story of Jumbo's death. The statue has been taking a beating from the weather since it was unveiled 25 years ago.
     Jumbo was the star attraction at "The Greatest Show on Earth," the Barnum & Bailey Circus that was performing in St. Thomas, a busy railway junction. P.T. Barnum always claimed Jumbo courageously gave up his life that night in St. Thomas by attacking an approaching steam train bearing down on a dwarf elephant named Tom Thumb.
     But other less motivated witnesses said Jumbo was merely careless when he accidentally stepped into the train's path. Whatever the story, Jumbo made this town famous - certainly in railroading lore.
     Stuart Palmer, owner of HIRA Contracting, was hired to restore the life-size concrete monument to the four-metre-high elephant, which had been wrapped in protective shrouding since November.
     "There had been a lot of deterioration of the concrete over the years," said Palmer. "Water had penetrated deep and was rusting the steel frame inside the statue. It's totally renewed now with new concrete and some new protective sealant products that weren't around 25 years ago."
     Being concrete, Jumbo can't show up at the site of the International Ploughing Match ( www.ipm2010.com) next door to the St. Thomas Municipal Airport on Talbot Line on the east side of town. However, the 100,000 visitors expected at the competition will be encouraged to visit his impressive statue on Talbot St. on the west side of town.
     Or, you can learn all you want to know about Jumbo and circus life in the 1800s by viewing the Steve Peters collection at the Elgin Military Museum just along Fingal Rd. from Jumbo's statue. Jumbo's life and death have been meticulously documented by Steve Peters, the Speaker of the House at the Ontario Legislature. Peters, a former mayor of St. Thomas and former agriculture and labour minister in the McGuinty cabinet, is the provincial member for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
     His jumbo Jumbo collection includes an 1881 letter from P.T. Barnum to the London Zoological Society offering to buy their huge elephant for his circus and transport it to New York.
     "There are thousands of products bearing Jumbo's name, from peanut butter to school books to hockey players," said Peters.
     Joe Thornton, an NHL star with the San Jose Sharks, is known as Jumbo Joe in part because he hails from St. Thomas.
     Jumbo's stuffed body was on display for 86 years at Tufts University outside Boston until it and other P.T. Barnum memorabilia were destroyed in a 1975 fire. Barnum was a trustee at the university and Tufts athletic teams are called the Jumbos.
     At 9:23 p.m. on Sept. 15, Peters and dozens of fellow Jumbo fanatics will gather at that fateful spot on the CN railway tracks on the north side of town to salute the moment of Jumbo's last performance - saving Tom Thumb. They likely toast his passing by downing Dead Elephant Ale, a new beer introduced this summer by Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

Photo Credits
Pat Brennan

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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Thomas,_Ontario
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/St._Thomas_%28Ontario%29
About.com: http://history1800s.about.com/od/americanoriginals/ig/Images-of-Phineas-T--Barnum/The-Arrival-of-Jumbo.htm

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