Joel Cadieux’s children will know just what to expect when they visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump this summer.
After all, they helped their dad build a scale version of the UNESCO World Heritage Site out of Lego pieces in their basement.
The 1.5-metre-square Lego display that Joel developed from photos of the real Alberta attraction at which bison were driven over the cliff by aboriginal hunters sits on half a ping-pong table in the Cadieux’s Clearview home.
An impressively uneven cliff face is made from grey blocks that rise about 15 cm from a flat ‘prairie’ base. Bare earth and grasses are simulated by multi-hued interlocking pieces, as well as some actual press-on Lego grass patches, bushes and a few trees.
Joel said the hardest thing was coming up with the buffalo. Since Lego does not sell bison, he had to come up with a design from scratch.
It took months to make something that resembled a buffalo, with the hump shoulders, and the dark brown colour on top, admitted Joel, who trawled the Internet for specialty pieces.
His six-year-old son Noah quickly became the quality control judge. “He told me the first ones looked like a moose or something,” said Joel, with a laugh.
The father of four finally got the look right after discovering a stash of Lego pieces that resembled a hump. He borrowed horns for the creatures from a viking set and created the legs and hoofs from two-toned cylindrical pieces.
In the display, he even put a few red blocks, simulating blood, under the head of the unfortunate animal that is dropping over the cliff.
Joel said he loved playing with interlocking building pieces as a boy, but grew out of the activity about when he discovered girls.
He got back into it after Noah was born, and discovered “it’s just as fun as when I was a kid.”
His time-consuming hobby is supported by Joel’s wife, Sandra, who believes it’s something he can do with the kids in the evenings, including four-year-old Dallis, two-year-old Elijah, and eventually Davis, who is only two weeks old.
“It’s also a creative outlet,” said Joel, who enjoys the problem-solving aspect — such as figuring out the raised cliff could be supported by hidden Lego pillars.
The Red Deer salesman, who previously designed a 400-seat Lego hockey rink, thought of re-creating Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump because it was an attraction he’d always meant to visit. “I haven’t actually seen it yet,” he admitted, although the Cadieux family are planning a trip to the Fort McLeod area this summer.
He estimated his re-creation took up to 25,000 Lego pieces, including the natives on horseback that came from a Western set the company produced about 10 years ago, which he found on eBay.
His hobby would get expensive if Joel didn’t take advantage of on-line sales, as well as garage sales.
Many of the different Lego blocks he stores in a well-organized drawer system were obtained from old sets sold on-line. Joel said he often keeps only the unique pieces he needs and resells the rest on eBay.
So far, he’s received great feedback on his Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump project from other Lego enthusiasts he met on-line, as well as officials from the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. They asked to maintain a photo link to his display on their website.
Noah and Dallis also admire their dad’s handiwork — but they really liked finally being allowed to play with the buffalo on Saturday.
The family’s next project? Joel envisions building a suspension bridge and some kind of Godzilla-like monster rising out of the sea.