When Canada’s Wonderland opened on former farmland on the outskirts of Toronto in May 1981, it was the first major theme park in Canada. An opening day ceremony at the 379-acre park in Vaughan included 10,000 helium balloons, 13 parachutists, 350 white doves and Wayne Gretzky, who raised the Canadian flag. Four kids representing different regions across the country poured a vial of water from each area into the centrepiece fountain. Despite initially having opponents due to concerns about excess traffic and its impact on smaller competition, the park was popular once it opened – which is maybe why it set the scene for an entire episode of The Littlest Hobo.
For the past 35 years, generations of thrill seekers have been shaken, rattled and rolled on the rides at Wonderland. Changes have been made – the park has been sold twice, and subdivisions have been built around it – but almost 70 rides – 16 of which are roller coasters – are still enjoyed by just over three million people every season.
Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times while remembering the excited fear and long lines you had to overcome to experience a few of these iconic Canada’s Wonderland rides.
About 600 passengers could ride the Jet Scream every hour after it opened in 1990. The 24.4 metre high steel looping starship ride swung around a horizontal axis at 15.5 m/second for two minutes and 44 seconds. Jet Scream was listed for sale at $150,000 in 2010, and was replaced by Windseeker for the 2011 season. Rumour has it that Jet Scream now sits at a theme park in Venezuela.
Vortex opened in 1991 and still holds world records for being the fastest suspended coaster in the world with speeds up to 80km/h and the tallest suspended coaster in the world.
Passengers ride in moving cars hanging from the 750-metre-long track for almost two minutes. If you can keep your eyes open, it’s one of the most scenic rides in the park, traveling the lift hill on Wonder Mountain, speeding over grassy hills and turning over water that seems close enough to touch.
Fans of the ride might have taken a photo of the coaster as it turns over the water – big-ger fans will have a Pepsi Vortex souvenir collector cup.
Blauer Enzian/Thunder Run
Blauer Enzian operated from 1981, when Canada’s Wonderland opened, until 1986, when it was relocated and incorporated into Wonder Mountain as Thunder Run. At a speed of 36 km/hour, the train runs twice around a track that takes passengers into the mountain – much of the almost-two minute ride is in the dark.
Originally, the interior of Wonder Mountain was intended to host a Bavarian Market, but plans changed so that Thunder Run could occupy the space. Moving equipment around to ensure Thunder Run would fit and the Vortex could be constructed closed a walkway on the mountain that original Wonderland guests used to get to a lookout to see panoramic views of the park. Vortex riders can still catch a glimpse of the lookout on the mountain from their vantage point in the ride.
Action Theatre: Days of Thunder
The Action Theatre has seen, well, a lot of action since its debut in 1993. The motion simulator movie ride – also known as a great ride to take in when you need to get out of the sun and cool down – has hosted James Bond: License to Thrill (1998), Escape from Dino Island 3D (1999), Stan Lee’s 7th Portal (2001), SpongeBob Square Pants 4-D (2003), The Fantastic World of Hanna-Barbara (2006), Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia 3D (2012), Monsters of the Deep 3D (2013) and this year (2016) will feature Robinson Crusoe 3D.
But when it opened in 1994 after the sale of the park to Paramount, it launched with Days of Thunder. The ride – essentially a race scene from the 1990 movie – was so popular, park goers could experience the return of Days of Thunder in 2004.
Happyland of Hanna-Barbara
We know, we know. It’s not a ride. But nostalgic Canada’s Wonderland fans always have a special place in their hearts for The Happyland of Hanna-Barbara, the original children’s section of the theme park, so it’s worth a mention.
Hanna-Barbara Land was made up of three sections – Yogi’s Woods, Scoobyville and Bedrock. The Hanna-Barbara characters worked to promote the park to kids.
The Hanna-Barbara theme was moved out and replaced over the years beginning in 1984 with Smurf Village, followed by Kids Kingdom, KidZville and Nickelodeon Central. Canada’s Wonderland was the last theme park to have remnants of a Hanna-Barbara land when it was finally replaced by Planet Snoopy in 2010.
Mighty Canadian Minebuster
Some initial opponents of Canada’s Wonderland were worried about the introduction of American theme parks to Canada when the park opened, but park developers planned on creating a Frontier Canada section to help assuage some of those worries.
Frontier Canada didn’t ever come to fruition, but glimpses of it are found around the park – including The Mighty Canadian Minebuster, one of the five roller coasters that debuted in 1981.
At 31.54 metres high and traveling over 1,085 metres of track, the Minebuster is the largest and longest single track wooden roller coaster in Canada. It was modelled after the Shooting Star ride at Coney Island. Some changes have been made to the coaster in its 35 years, which has resulted in less “airtime” for riders, but the ride is so iconic, rumours of its demise were shut down this year by Canada’s Wonderland staff, who said it’s not going anywhere.
Sometime this summer, the 38th million rider will wonder if their outstretched hands will hit the two by fours marking the entrance to the tunnel.
The Bat, a boomerang roller coaster, was the seventh roller coaster in the park when it opened in 1987. A commercial featuring SCTV’s Joe Flaherty dressed as a vampire promoted the new ride.
The ride is short – just a minute and forty-seven seconds – but it offers riders the unique chance to ride the coaster, and then ride the coaster again going backwards through one loop and over two lifts.
Opened in the Medieval Faire section of the park, the 286-metre track stands near a shop called The Belfry. In 2008, the Bat’s black and red supports were painted orange.
One of the five rollercoasters to open the park in 1981, the 400-metre long wooden coaster has belonged to Scooby, and Peanuts, but is usually just referred to as being the Ghoster Coaster. Canada’s Wonderland describes it as being a junior version of the Wild Beast.
Traveling at speeds of 35 miles per hour, the ride has kids – and possibly their caregivers – screaming for two minutes and eleven seconds.
The Ghoster Coaster was originally awarded ACE Coaster Classic status, meeting the criteria of having a traditional lap bar that allows for airtime, a lack of restraint that allows for shifting from side-to-side, no headrests that restrict the view of upcoming drops and no assigned seating. The award has been rescinded as a result of changes to the ride. The good news it, that probably means it’s safer.
In 1985, the Skyrider became Canada’s first standup roller-coaster, and the second standup in the world to have a loop.
It traveled 680 metres of track for a minute and a half at speeds up to 82 km/hour, hosting almost 23 million riders before it was retired in 2014.
Twenty-four winners in a final ride contest were invited to take the last trip on the Skyrider in September, 2014. They each took a wheel from the coaster as a souvenir.
Fans wanting another ride on the Skyrider can technically do so at Cavillino Matto in Italy – the ride was relocated there and opened as the Freestyle in 2015.
Wild Beast & Dragon Fire
Beloved despite riders being unclear of exactly how to pronounce their names, the Wild Beast and Dragon Fire are two of the five coasters debuted at the park in 1981. They were renamed from Wilde Beast and Dragon Fyre in 1997.
The Wild Beast runs for two minutes and five seconds, and like the Minebuster, is mod-elled after a ride at Coney Island. There’s also a Grizzly coaster at both Kings Dominion in Virgina and California’s Great America as well as a Bush Beast ride at Wonderland Sydney that are based on the same design. The Wild Beast was featured in a 1983 episode of Fraggle Rock. Some of the 917 metres of wooden track has been smoothed out, offering a less jolting ride nowadays.
In 1982, Dragon Fire reportedly had the longest wait time in the park with a line lasting thirty minutes. The steel roller coaster has two vertical loops, a double corkscrew and a helix, and travels 1,219 metres of track. The two-minute track turned out to be too short for three trains, so one of the Dragon Fire trains was modified and lent to the Bat. Dragon Fire has the highest total ridership than any other ride in the park – more than 39 million people have taken a spin on it since 1981.
Honourable mentions: BEHEMOTH & LEVIATHAN
The two most costly rollercoasters to be introduced at Wonderland are also two of the park’s main attractions. The Behemoth ($26 million, introduced in 2008) is a hyper coaster – its 230 foot, 75 degree drop exceeds a height or drop over 200 feet, while the Leviathan ($28 million, introduced in 2012) is a giga coaster, because it has a 306 foot, 80 degree drop that exceeds 300 feet.
The Behemoth was designed so that each rider has an unobstructed view – riders can even get a clear view of the CN Tower.
Leviathan is the tallest (306 feet) and fastest (148 km/h) roller coaster in Canada, and also the longest roller coaster in the park at 5,486 feet long. Bidders wanting to be the first to ride the Leviathan raised over $40,000 for SickKids.
Both coasters can thrill more than 1,300 passengers an hour, and both have their own gift shop.
Next up in 2016 are the Skyhawk and the Flying Eagles rides, which one day might be iconic rides for passengers not even born yet.
(Main photo: Loozrboy)
(All other photos courtesy of Canada’s Wonderland)