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More Wonder

September 14, 2013

This is another long post, with little point except to reminisce about and talk more about coasters and Canada’s Wonderland.  Let’s hit the mountain!

After last weekend’s festivities with Erin as we hurtled around in all three dimensions, I’ve gotten a kick of interest and memories and probably some nostalgia about that park built around that mountain.   To the internets I went, searching for bits and snippets and remembering things along the way, piecing together many great memories of friends and I’s visit(s) to the park… which, back then, was usually but once-a-year, making it rather a special affair.

When the park opened in ’81, this was it:

wonderland 1981 map

I remember this map.  They would use the same map designs for a few years, tweaking it for new additions and the like, but keeping it otherwise identical.

At the centre of it all is that mountain, that 150’ huge mass of concrete leaping towards the sky, with the massively iconic waterfall at the front.   What an inspired idea for the park.  One, it became an instant landmark, something you saw when approaching the park.  Toronto’s mostly flat-ish land, so heading up the 400 you saw it.  It was something different.  It let you know something was up, you were getting close.  And that was the second part, it was the perfect centre piece and heart for the very idea of a theme park.  It evoked something, let you know you were going to enter a different realm.   It wasn’t a new idea – other parks by the same company had a tower at the centre of their parks, and certainly Disney’s castle was the prototype par excellence.  And it worked.

There’s a reason they put it in their logo.  It was the thing for the park.

Original_Canada's_Wonderland_logo

Five themed areas were present:  Medieval Faire (purple), Hanna Barbera Land (pink), International Festival (yellow), Grand World Exposition of 1890 (green) and International Street (orange).  When Wonderland opened, it was a theme park.  I know I’ve said this numerous times, but it really was;  I just love looking at the names of the rides in the Faire… Dragon Fyre, Wilde Beast… the theming of a spinning teacup type ride making them Quixote’s Kettles.  The Krachenwagen bumper cars.  The Sol Loco, with its Aztec-y motif.  The Minebuster! Zumba Flume with all its tiki-ness.  To my young eyes, they took care in making a theme a theme.  Likely cheesy, but it added a layer to the fun rather than your typical carnival.  They weren’t trying to out Disney Disney, but that extra layer elevated the senses and made it just that bit sweeter, the way wine tastes quite different out of a wine glass than it does out of a plastic cup.

To continue harping, over the years, the theming has, it appears, largely gone away.  Why they would stoop to changing the names from Dragon Fyre to Dragon Fire, I don’t know.  (And Quixote’s Kettles has become the Spinnovator.  SPINNOVATOR??!)   I think now it’s more of an amusement park than a theme park.  When I was at Great America last weekend, I couldn’t tell if there were any themed areas, and then just decided maybe they didn’t do a good job at it.  Same company, though, so I’ll bet it’s just become their thing to make it more like generic.carnival than to try to upkeep the theme aspect(s).  I think something’s lost for the guests in doing so.

wonderland 1984 map

The 1984 map is interesting for the new zone/ride (White Water Canyon) – for which the lines were 1hr+ when it opened!! – and for the now amazing/shocking thing that the park guide was sponsored by and featured an advert for Player’s cigarettes.  (!)  Also there is the Saltwater Aquarium, where they had dolphin shows, also now rather shocking, given how small the tanks to hold the dolphins and etc when not performing must have been, and how not-nice that really was.  I’m glad to learn that it closed down in 2001.

Listed on these two maps is the Blauer Enzian –  a ride for which I have no memory of ever having seen.  I do, though, have a distinct memory of seeing it on the map, and wondering why I never saw it.  This was a powered train ride, in a figure-8 type loop, and I think my confusion came that it looks much taller/bigger on the map than it ever was in reality.  I somehow just never saw it at all.   And I had no idea until this week that the ride was dismantled and was reborn as Thunder Run.  The trains are the one and the same that now ply through the mountain.  That I never saw it, and never even knew, is somehow very cool and fascinating to me!

Despite that mystery ride, I also don’t think all the rides were expressed on the map(s) – the Bayern’s Curve for example, is not shown on the map.  Sad to learn that it was removed in 2000 (the guy with the big horn will be missed).  Neither is the Pharaoh’s eye…

The last map I have burned into my memory was the one used later, similar to this one in 1989:

Wonderland 1989maplarge

Arguably a bit more legible, it shows some of the new attractions… and the hilarious sponsorship of different rides.  :P

(Most of these construction and early year photos below are sourced from the newsplusnotes website retrospective on Wonderland)

Ahh, the mountain, resplendent if a bit odd looking with the water off! So much work going into it.  Niftily, all that water was also used as part of the cooling system for the park, using the water as a moderator to help cool the AC coils (much of the mountain’s inside I think has HVAC equipment), not to mention the evaporative cooling from the mist off those falls.  Looking back the other way:

The nice water cascades at the bottom can be seen.  And could be seen, quite easily, until..

One, you can see the plugged walkway that used to be behind the falls, where you could get quite nicely soaked from all the mist, and be awed by all the water coming crashing down.  Two, you can see the handholds built into the rock for where the cliff divers would climb up to the top!  And three… a new fence, I guess to prevent people from going into the water (did people actually do that?).  But look at that fence… seriously guys, that was the best you could do?  You wanted to close off access, and so you just plunked a big black ugly there?  For shame, I say, shame.  Another theme opportunity missed.

Here’s a shot of that mysterious train ride.  Funny is that the ride in the foreground — the touring cars — was a ride I loved and rode on a whack of times.  How I missed the train going on in the background, I’ll never know.

At any rate, that it was then incorporated into the mountain, however, is brilliant.  It served to enhance the mystique of the mountain, as you dove into its depths and saw the treasures (and their guardian) that was hidden within!  This added delightfully to the themeing of the park.  And while the train doesn’t go uber fast, it picks up enough speed to make it fun, moreso than the little figure eight here would be, I imagine.  (That the Vortex would, later, also be added and use the mountain was another great idea — though they could’ve fixed up the roof deck a bit to look less like a roof deck when you come off the lift…)

Note too on the mountain — people!  (click for full view, if you can’t see them…)  When the park opened, the mountain was not just a pretty face, there were walkways you could go up and see the whole park from up on high.  It was a cool little feature, giving a good sense of the park and letting you see the rides from a different perspective (especially at night).  I know I have a photo I took with my old 110-film style camera of the Wilde Beast lying around somewhere.  The mountain was eventually closed in 1986 when Thunder Run was opened, both as they moved some of the HVAC equipment onto the ‘roof’ of the mountain to make room for the ride, and secondly so that people couldn’t throw things down onto the track.

Also, for those of us who went to Wonderland as a kid and were awed by the mountain rising so high, ponder this:  the lift hill for the new Leviathan coaster is twice the height of the mountain.  Boggle!!

The aforementioned now removed (sadly) Bayern’s Curve.  Fun little ride, simple yet fun.  The horn would often blast when it hit its top speed!

The Dragon’s Fyre (FYRE!) in it’s original colours:  track in reptile green, and the cars painted like Fyre.  Awesome.  Also, fun coaster!

The dragon itself!  Little touches, my friends, little touches…

I love this shot, it looks so different with everything still, getting ready for the opening day.  You can see the whole of the Dragon’s Fyre, with the loops, corkscrew and helix.  At the lower right, that lagoon would get filled in with water, and you can see the the pirate ship that had several shows daily featuring swashbuckling, cannons that fired (with water floomps near the shore!), acrobatics off a hidden trampoline in the ship, and many, many, many people being knocked off the boat into the water.  Very fun show!

I also love, at the lower left corner, the ductwork for the HVAC system just chilling out in behind the European facades.  More thematically, you can make out Qixotie’s Kettles on the bank between the pirate ship and the Fyre.

This is perhaps one of my favourite pictures, not the least of which is that it shows my beloved Wilde Beast.  But beyond that — and all the thematic bits of the park — is what’s beyond… the farmland, the trees, the emptiness.  The grass is brown, the trees bare, it’s likely early spring the year before opening, and everything’s ready, all’s been built, all ready to be unleashed on the world, to grow, expand, an enchanted spot surrounded by fields, a calm before the excitement.

I remember the people who worked at Wonderland always were having a good time, and were playful.  As one of the Mighty Canadian Minebuster’s trains came in one time, the person at the microphone said “Welcome back on the purple train of passion!”  Or, when the inevitable traffic jam would happen on the Krakenwagen, they would be on the mic the whole time, encouraging people to disengage and get themselves moving again.

And the number of times my friends and I would mus-pronounce the name of the Minebuster as the MinDbuster was numerous and legendary… and given the awesomely rough ride it was, we never corrected ourselves.  It just fit.

So indeed I’ve been obsessing a bit over Wonderland this past week… over a decade of not expressing my theme park excitement made up a bit for lost time.   Looking at youtube vids of Wonderland’s Flight Deck, it turns out it is a different coaster than the one at Great America, much more compact and with lots of immelman-like direction changes as it loops about.  Behemoth and Leviathan look quite intense (humorous side note:  the hyper/giga coasters seem to be where companies have been putting their efforts into creating hang time rather than the woodies;  ironic, the lap bar taketh away, and so you have to go bigger), who knows how many seasons more Vortex will last, and to sit and shaken on the Wilde Beast and Minebuster would be fabulous.

Look out Wonderland.  One day, I will be back.

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