If you’ve ever wondered where the world’s biggest apple is, look no farther than the 401 freeway near Colborne, Ontario. The Big Apple, which is, as you might guess, features a big apple, has been serving up pies and general small scale amusement since 1987.
I like the big apple for a lot of reasons. An example of Novelty Architecture, the big apple is unusual as for the most part the golden age of novelty architecture has come and gone. When interstate highways were first built in the mid twentieth century, travel times were much longer, and there was more of a need and desire to stop frequently. As road trips were also a popular form of family vacation in a time when disposable incomes were lower, there was a demand for kid friendly entertainment along the highway. One of my favourites was the Flintstone Fun Park out near Chilliwack, which is now long gone. Novelty architecture was popular in the US, Canada, and Australia, countries where driving is popular and travel distances can be astoundingly long. One common form of novelty architecture featured an oversized replica of a food, animal or other object; Ontario has a big nickel, a big goose, a big apple, and a few other good examples that are still around.
I also like the Big Apple as apples are very much an Ontario food. Ontario produces an excellent apple harvest, and apples are very much part of the local cuisine. Though apple pie is seen as a quintessential American dish, it is equally important to the history of Canadian settlement. Apple trees were extremely easy to grow, and provided both a good food source and a source of easy to ferment fruit. Settlers could make apple cider from the fruit of their orchards, and by freezing out the water they could create applejack, a strong fruit apple that creates a fast, sharp intoxication.
So is the Big Apple worth the stop? Well, the pie is surprisingly good. It is not too sweet, the pastry is flaky, and their ice cream is nice and creamy. I haven’t tried the various other products, as I am a pie purist, but the big apple definitely breaks up the drive. They also now have a few llamas wandering around, and if you want your kids to burn off some energy they can climb the stairs to the top of the apple, where you have a good view, of, well the pie factory and the highway.
Another reason to stop is that in general the 401 travels through a culinary wasteland, skirting what towns exist along the lake and river. Food service along the 401 is provided by service centres that were once at least architecturally interesting, but now are all basically big glass boxes featuring the same limited multinational food chains. As what they sell is only marginally food, my advice is to pack a lunch and stop for pie.