Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Alberta

Canada! Our glorious neighbor to the north has slightly more area under their flag and 1/10th the people. With just over 4 million residents, the province of Alberta is definitive "Western Canada" - culturally they're nothing like the people of the massive Toronto/Hamilton metroplex and share affinities for hunting, oil drilling, and pickup trucks much more alike the residents of somewhere like Utah or Texas.


Before Cedar Fair bought themselves a pile of robot dinos, Alberta's Jurassic Forest opened. A modern version of the roadside dinosaur parks that littered the Upper Midwest in the 50s, Jurassic Forest provides trails through a wooded area where one encounters, you know, dinosaurs. There's mini golf too, but the idea of moving lifesize dinosaur robots into a more "realistic" environment is the true pull here. Look, did you know that gymnosperms didn't become the most common tree type until the late Cretaceous? Nah, don't even play like you did.


Back in the 1970s, Calgary became the epicenter of an oil boom in Western Canada. Between 1966 and 1986, the population nearly doubled to 630,000. This burst of activity, money, and people led to a number of developments being planned and constructed. One of these that came to fruition was Flintstones Fun Park, changed to Calaway Park prior to its 1982 opening, in the suburb of Springbank. Projected to obtain half a million people in attendance within a couple years of opening, the park themed to the famous cartoon family was just like virtually every theme park development of the post war era and instead turned into a commercial disaster for the first owners.

Today, many of the original buildings still show facades and even names from the Flintstones, even if the license was dropped following receivership and sale in 1986. Aside from the vintage Arrow Corkscrew, there's a few other notable attractions. Whitewater West, the company responsible for almost all of Disney's water slides and attractions, and their subsidiary Hopkins Rides constructed a log flume for the park in 2012 that's fairly substantial. There's also a pair of rare flat rides: a Chance Chaos (most were removed from action after an accident at Michigan's Adventure) and an Intamin Mini Enterprise (like a tiny version of the Waagner Biro wheels at Hershey and the Great America parks).


Calgary's best overall "themed" experience is probably the Calgary Zoo, which itself has a prehistoric dinosaur walkthrough. But for something more human in nature, there's the Heritage Park. A living museum complex, it intends to show various periods in the history of the area through exhibits, costumed characters, a standard gauge train (!) and museum pieces. Of particular interest to ride nerds is the Conklin Lakeview Amusement Park. It might be possible that the name "Conklin" is familiar: Conklin Rides became the biggest carnival midway in North America around that time with events like the Calgary Stampede, Canadian National Exhibition, Big E, and Miami-Dade Fair before becoming absorbed into what is known today as North American Midway Entertainment (N.A.M.E.) along with several other operators.

There's a Herschell-Spillman Carousel and an Eli Wheel here, but the real pulls should be the 1921 Mangels portable Whip ride, the 1920 one-off "Dangler" swing ride, and the 1928 Spillman Caterpillar (complete with hemp canopy that covers riders mid cycle!). Those three rides are the only operating examples of their sort anywhere on Earth. This is real living amusement/theme park  history: when they're gone, there's gonna be nothing left but pictures and choppy video to go by.


It was in 1981 that the first phase of the West Edmonton Mall opened to the public, and in the subsequent 35 years, there have been many changes. For visitors acquainted with the theme park industry, the most obvious attraction is the giant and infamous Schwarzkopf triple looping roller coaster, the Mindbender, which sits at the far end of the mall under a slanted roof. Unlike most giant malls you'll find in Asia's more developed regions, West Edmonton Mall looks and feels free-form, as though guess work for its sprawling spaces was a primary driver. There's an enormous indoor water park, and several other interesting rides and attractions in Galaxyland. But look closer, and you'll find remnants of a strange past. Take, for example, the model of the Santa Maria. Yes, one of Columbus' ships has been recreated here and placed in a lagoon. But did you know there was a ride around this at one point?

Yes, Disney weren't the only folks with a sub fleet. As is too often the case also with any theme park outside of Disney, there's precious little footage and photos to look at about how it appeared when operational. Here's some video from a souvenir video the mall produced:

Today, you can still find Canada's sole dark ride outside Ontario here with Quirks in the Works, a haunted house, multiple mini golf courses, Sea Life Caverns aquarium, casino gaming, and more. The Mindbender is still here too, but just know that it closes multiple times a day for inspection. And yes, it killed three people. That really did happen.


Alberta has a permanent skyride over at the Stampede fairgrounds. It is possible you've never heard of Stampede, so to summarize: it is a Very Big Deal. If you know what the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo or San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo are like, it is like that but with even more rodeo stuff. If you don't know, then it is rodeo replacing all the agricultural stuff at most giant state fairs, plus more fair stuff, plus more rodeo. Calgary is known globally for Stampede, being the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and the home of the NHL Flames and Bret Hart in exactly that order.


Screamfest is the biggest thing in the province for the Halloween fans, and takes place each October over in the Stampede grounds. Haunted Calgary is a more homemade sort of thing, put together by volunteers each year to benefit the Calgary Food Bank and Oops-a-Dazy Animal Rescue. Those crazy Canadians, doing things for their fellow man! Poor Fort McMurray pretty much burned to the ground this year, but it seems some people still have something, and they're looking to continue the Halloween weekend tradition of Chateau Boo at the Boys and Girls Club. Seriously, their city burned down, people. Feel free to give a little money if you've got it to something like this fund managed by the local Rotary. Finally, the Paramount Theater in Edmonton gets turned into Deadmonton each year, and apparently they go all out in trying to keep the theme down of a haunted movie theater.

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