We just released the latest episode of the Themed Attraction Podcast featuring Danusia Rogacki, Creative Services Manager at Canada’s Wonderland. It’s a fascinating interview that clearly reveals Danusia’s total love and dedication to the park. Go listen to that first…I’ll wait right here…
…Ok, it was amazing, right? Such joy for going the extra mile to preserve the sense of story and theme for this sister park to Kings Island and Kings Dominion. Oh, don’t you know who built this park? Or how it actually came to life? Or that it nearly didn’t happen? Well then, you need to read chapter six of Imagineering an American Dreamscape—Davy Crockett tangles with…Yogi Bear? Can’t find your copy right now? Here you go:
The third park in Taft’s strategic plan took awhile to get going. By this time Taft had partnered with Family Leisure Centers (Kroger) and was looking north for this one, in 1973 acquiring land in the region of Toronto, Canada, specifically the village of Maple (in the town of Vaughan). But the idea of an amusement park—and especially an American-based one—didn’t sit too well with the locals. In a scenario that would become all too common for park planners over the decades, it was going to take serious politicking and education to convince them it might actually be good for them. Locals banded together as SAVE (Sensible Approach to Vaughan’s Environment) while regional cultural centers such as the Royal Ontario Museum worried about competition. “For God’s sake, Disneyland isn’t the real world. We don’t need a place like this. We have everything we need in Metro Toronto…It’s an abomination and I don’t want my children exposed to more of this kind of hucksterism,” said an enraged Margaret Britnell, mayor of King Township.
Taft realized none of these people had any idea what such a park would be like—there was nothing else in Canada for comparison. So they hosted a tour of Kings Island for the folks to get hands-on with what they had to offer. Reaction was somewhat mixed, but overall the group came away with a new perspective. The mayor of Vaughan was an enthusiastic supporter. “That was a great public relations thing for them to do. All this anti-American feeling is baloney. Building this park is no different than watching American television.”
Opposition to the idea, however, was just cranking into high gear. Toronto city councillor John Sewell insisted “we should do everything possible to discourage this proposal.” Other local officials chimed in, and SAVE kept up the pressure. By 1978, however, enough of these individuals had a change of heart, and in March the Ontario Municipal Board issued a 32-page report approving the project, including a key stipulation that the park emphasize Canadian culture in the design. Not all came away happy. Local councillor James Cameron rued to The Star “You could say Yogi Bear won and Maple lost.” “Resignation has been the real response of the people,” SAVE told the Star in 1980. “It means we’ll be living between two dumps.” Dumps? Oh yes. The park…and the Keele Valley Landfill.
Ground was finally broken for Canada’s Wonderland in 1979, with the park opening two years later. True to Taft’s expectations, the park was a hit, with first year attendance nearly breaking 2.2 million. It has since gone on to shine as one of the most attended regional parks in North America with nearly 3.8 million guests in 2018.
To their credit, Taft initially set out to design a park that was identifiably Canadian, rather than merely copying from the other two blue‐prints. The overall layout and entry concept remained, including International Street, the central fountains, and the park’s towering icon at the far end. But in this case it wasn’t a tower—Wonder Mountain with its majestic, cascading waterfall signified Canada’s beautiful, rustic landscape and provided not only a visual centerpiece for the park, but also a vantage point for viewing the surrounding area. Wonder Mountain Pathway wound up and around the mountain toward the peak, which did nothing for preserving forced perspective of height, but provided lots of Kodak camera moments. International Street resembled the ones at Kings Island and Kings Dominion in its colorful, international architectural style. Interestingly, instead of indicating specific shop and food locations, the first year park map simply labels the Alpine Building, Scandinavian Building, Mediterranean Building, and Latin Building.
Off to the right through a well-themed portal lay the land of Medieval Faire, where everything was spelled accordingly: Dragon Fyre, French Fryes and Shrymps, and Yee Ribb Pytt give you the idea. An impressive castle facade led into the Canterbury Theatre, while the Sea Septre sailing vessel dominated the small lake as part of the pirate stunt show. Moving to the upper-right quadrant of the park we of course found the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera, complete with an Arrow auto ride, carousel, dolphin show, and Yogi’s Cave. With Canada’s Wonderland opening later than the earlier regionals, roller coaster technology had developed and therefore the park featured several coasters, including the family-friendly Ghoster Coaster, complete with a wonderfully detailed station building and graveyard.
Returning back behind Wonder Mountain found us in the lower-left quadrant where everything reflected the Grande World Exposition of 1890. Rides, food, and shops were styled and named in international flavor, such as Ginza Gardens, Moroccan Bazaar, Swing of Siam, and Persia. Now, sitting on the upper-left edge of this land was the Mighty Canadian Minebuster roller coaster. If you happened to notice, we skipped an entire quadrant on our journey around the park, seeing only three lands spread around International Street and the mountain. Remember that caveat for approval from the town? The bit about emphasizing Canadian culture? Well, it didn’t happen. As construction developed and budgets were updated, it became clear something had to go—Canadian Frontier…or the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera. You can guess which way it went. “You could pick this thing up, lock stock and barrel, and move it to Pretoria and call it South Africa’s Wonderland. There is nothing Canadian about it at all.” The Minebuster was about all there was for thirty-eight years before the park finally added a small section shoehorned between the mountain and the water park.