Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Ontario

Possessing nearly twice the population of its closest competition, and 50% more space than Texas, Ontario claims home to the nation's capital (Ottawa), Canada's biggest city (Toronto), the most used border crossings (Buffalo & Detroit), 40% of the country's GDP, and a connection to all but one Great Lake. Most people's experiences with the province will be limited to just Southern Ontario - the spit of land between the lakes where the major cities of the province all reside. Wind your way north and you'll eventually run out of road before you run out of Ontario. The Trans-Canada Highway, AKA ON-11, effectively establishes a boundary for traditional craft. To go past that requires high clearance vehicles and immense fuel tanks, along with the bravery required to travel for hundreds and hundreds of miles on logging roads into places where literal polar bears reside. There are huge tracts in which no man may have ever stepped foot. Ontario is that big.

As such, this is going to be an above average Hidden Rides segment. There's a lot to cover, after all. As always, I'll start by referencing the known thing: Canada's Wonderland, Cedar Fair's now second most popular seasonal park. Home to 15 roller coasters (one of which has dark ride elements), the best collection of flat rides in North America, and a Mountain centerpiece that is really really cool, Canada's Wonderland is an above average park that is also apparently getting a B&M Dive Coaster for the 2019 season. And we have to move on now, because there's other things to see.

Metro Toronto itself is home to a whole bunch of lesser known attractions; Centreville Amusement Park on Toronto Island is probably the most beloved, and has the coolest ride of the bunch with old school scary dark ride the Haunted Barrel Works, but also a brand new skyride, several car ride attractions, a junior coaster, and a log flume. Legoland Discovery Centre in Vaughan has a Kingdom Quest trackless shooting dark ride like many other facilities in the chain. Fantasy Fair at Woodbine Centre is an indoor family entertainment center in a mall with several kiddie rides and a small train. There's also some haphazard theming including animatronic dinosaurs and Main Street USA style store fronts.

But when it comes to wackiness, few places can ever match Niagara Falls. Much like Pigeon Forge or Orlando's old I-Drive, there's no shortage of off the wall amusements and attractions. An entire section of this blog could be dedicated to Niagara Falls, Ontario alone, but we're going to limit ourselves for now and just go through most of the highlights:

  • Marineland. Probably the most controversial theme park in North America, and it's tough to argue why. Are there interesting things here? Sure; Dragon Mountain is a gigantic Arrow looper who's theming took 25 years to construct (and only partially when done). There's a huge S&S tower complex overlooking the falls. It has some really crazy Huss rides from the 70s. It has performing animals and...OK, so that's part of the problem. "Part" because there's a preposterously high death rate. "Part" because the reaction by management to criticism has been far more boneheaded than SeaWorld's ever was. Google "John Holer". That's all you need to do.
  • Clifton Hill. This couple of blocks is where the not offensive stuff is at: There are two dark rides here, both shooting ones - Ghost Blasters in the Great Canadian Midway and Tour Bus SWAT Team Ride at Adventure City, located in a Sheraton. Ghost Blasters was constructed by Sally, the other by I.E. Park (and originally themed to Spiderman). There's also a Funhouse, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, an Upside Down House, three wax museums (Movieland, Louis Tussaud's, and Rock Legends), two haunted walkthroughs (Nightmare's Fear Factory, Castle Dracula), Rainforest Cafe, 4D Motion Simulators (mostly from Triotech like Zombie Attack), multiple mirror mazes, multi-level go-karts, indoor and outdoor mini golf, and the Niagara Skywheel.
  • Niagara's Fury. This is run by Canada National Parks, and it's actually pretty interesting - there's a preshow where cartoon characters learn about the creation of Niagara Falls before one dons their poncho and heads into the big room. It's a 360 degree theater not terribly unlike Disney's except for the floor's capacity to shake and the (sometimes soaking) water effects. It's actually very well done! 
  • Head further towards the falls and it just won't stop. There's more haunted attractions, the Niagara Falls IMAX Theatre, Skylon Tower's wacky Greatest Possible Arcade circa 1996, more FECs, a Margaritaville, and towering hotel/casinos. Oh, go the opposite way and you'll hit the big Fallsview Indoor Waterpark and Bird Kingdom.  

With all the glitz and cheesiness of Niagara Falls, one may wish to step back and find something more simple and perhaps "authentic." Guelph is a university town a decent drive out of Toronto, and Riverside Park there features a Spillman carousel and a diesel powered miniature train. Way out on the eastern edge of Ontario is North Bay Heritage Railroad and Carousel - they actually possess two carousels with work being done by local carvers. The town of Roseneath, located about halfway between Toronto and Kingston, also possesses a classic carousel. This one is a CW Parker of 1906 heritage that's been given a new building and lots of TLC. Older yet is Lakeside Park of St. Catharine's Looff from 1903, also meticulously kept up. And in the remote city of Thunder Bay lies Chippewa Park, a small community amusement park. It's carousel is being refurbished, and it's Spillman built coaster was torn down in 2011, but some kiddie rides remain for summer operation.

This may still be too devoid of natural surroundings for some, and Ontario tries to answer those criticisms as well. Blue Mountain Ski Resort has the safest option all around with their Mountain Coaster, one of the first constructed on the continent. Horseshoe has zip lining, a rock climbing wall, and scenic chair rides. There's also a few resorts in Ontario which feature exclusive water parks: Logos Land and Cedar Park Resorts both have substantive aquatics facilities with old school fiber glass slides.

Speaking of water parks: Yeah, there's a lot of them here. Calypso Water Park just outside Ottawa is the nation's largest, and has a huge selection of water slides and two impressively themed lazy river attractions too. Wet N' Wild Toronto is probably the second biggest stand alone facility, having reopened and rebranded to Wet N'Wild (the other Wet N'Wild chain; no really, there's two) in 2017 and with a new slate of slides. Bingeman's Big Splash in Kitchener, Lake Lisgar in Tillsonburg, Adventure Bay in Windsor, and East Park in London round out the list of significant aquatics facilities in the province.

Storybook parks also have a very real presence; Santa's Village in Bracebridge is probably the nicest of all of them, and has a jet boat ride down the Oshawa River, both a powered coaster and SBF kiddie spinner, and a really above average train ride. Storybook Gardens in London might have the highest attendance in this category because of its location near a large population of people. In spite of the location, there's fewer rides here to go with the common fairy tale dioramas and what not. Story Book Land in Owen Sound is much more remote, but has a cool home built walk through haunt and a decent collection of family friendly flat rides. Castle Village & The Enchanted Kingdom completes the group with fairy tale houses, walking trails, and medieval museum exhibits, but it doesn't actually have rides.

Like most places in the US, there are family entertainment centers with go karts, rides, bumper boats, and golf. Blue Mountain Go Karts is perhaps the most traditional of these, with a first generation Herschell kiddie coaster, older style go karts, and batting cages. Fun Haven in Ottawa is an indoor variation, and as an indoor facility there's an updated coaster (SBF Visa spinning coaster), updated bumper cars, and updated arcade games. Then things get interesting: Neb's FunWorld of Oshawa is also an indoors facility, but is sprawling and freeform thanks to the building being added onto over time from a bowling alley to a much more expansive set up. The largest building features an indoor Moser kiddie drop tower that's actually themed with synchronized lights, electric go-karts, and the Sparetime Express kiddie coaster, inside of a a steel cage above the go karts.

Ratcheting up the "weird" factor even further is an indoor FEC located in a large garden center. Colsanti's Tropical Gardens is, in fact, a great place to buy things like trees and flowers if you are Canadian. If you are not, you can still stop in and play arcade games and put your kids on rides like the Miner Mike coaster. And topping all contenders is Wild Water & Wheels of Peterborough. Why this facility? Is it the go karts? Nah. The water slides? No. The mini golf? Negatory. No, its about the coaster: the last Bailey Autosled in existence. The gauge of the track is based on the original material of PVC pipe (this particular one is steel), and the individual seat cars are akin to an alpine slide. It's quite possibly the oddest roller coaster in existence.

No comments:

Post a Comment