It is a special year for us here in York Durham Headwaters. Our premier amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland, turns 40. That’s 40 years of family, fun and laughter. It all began on the 23rd of May, 1981, and has been a big part of many people’s lives ever since. I am one of those people—incidentally, I turn 40 this year as well. I grew up in Scarborough, only an hour’s drive away from Vaughan where Wonderland is located, and spent many a happy summer cavorting around Wonder Mountain from one ride to the next. Needless to say, the anniversary of this iconic Ontario landmark is particularly significant to me.
I don’t remember a time without Canada’s Wonderland. Pull out the vintage, yellowing albums of my childhood from their perma-perch high in my parents’ bedroom closet, and you will find Eighties-era photos of me strutting my chubby, toddler stuff about Hanna-Barbera Land like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. The Scoobyville Carousel? Yeah, I was a regular [Katherine nonchalantly buffs nails on collar]. Me and the outside horse with the pink tail—we were tight in those days.
As I grew, so did my appetite for bigger, bolder, faster and fright-inducing! At the tender age of eight, I experienced The Bat for the first time. Just tall enough to meet the height requirement—and having never ridden a true roller coaster before—I boarded this Medieval Faire favourite alongside my father with all the confidence of an innocent watching the joy of older, more mature riders. I sat down, strapped in, went up… and effectively left my stomach on the platform. The rest was a blur survived through clenched teeth and clenched fists, peppered occasionally with disjointed images of sky and, at one point, my father’s voice asking me if I was okay (to which I bravely nodded as tightly as I could because I would never admit to my dad, my hero… that I was terrified!).
My memories of Canada’s Wonderland are long and detailed and oh-so happy. There were the summers when my younger sister and I had obtained an age worthy of a little freedom in our parents’ eyes, which we fully exploited to scamper about uninhibited from ride to ride, food stand to food stand. There were the teenage years when my friends and I would hop on the GO bus from York Mills Station in Toronto (which we took the TTC to get to because, y’know, we were too cool to be driven by the ’rents), and spend the day showing off our bravery to one another on the highest and fastest coasters. And then, my fondest memories of all, the parental pride I get to experience at watching my own kids make a lifetime of memories for themselves while we spend sunny summer days cavorting around Wonder Mountain as if I never grew up at all.
I am not alone in my nostalgia. There are thrill-seekers like me all over our region—and beyond—for whom the park has become a tradition across generations. Some of them even work there now. Grace Peacock is the park’s Director of Communications. “Canada’s Wonderland has been a destination for fun and amazement for so many people,” she says. “It’s a place you grow up with. I first visited when I was a child with my parents, and it made such a lasting impression: the rides, the characters, the noises, the funnel cake smells. And then I spent nearly every summer as a teenager there with my Season Pass riding the coasters over and over.” Today, Grace brings her own children, because she wants to recreate those special memories and experiences for them.
With wholesome family entertainment always in demand, Canada’s Wonderland offers a diverse complement of attractions which go beyond the rides we know and love. Who remembers the acrobatic pirates of Arthur’s Baye? Or the song and dance productions waiting for eager guests in the Canterbury Theatre? Or the divers of Wonder Mountain? There have been Kingswood Theatre concerts and firework displays and movie and TV characters from the Paramount days as far back as I can remember. In more recent times, Halloween Haunt has become a favourite nighttime attraction in the fall. And, just this past winter (2019), Wonderland introduced WinterFest—a magical celebration for the holiday season where the park grounds are transformed into a snowy… well, wonderland!
Forty years later, and we unfortunately find ourselves braving the COVID-19 pandemic. While we cannot celebrate together at the park like we want to, that doesn’t mean Wonderland is letting this momentous anniversary pass unnoted. Of course, no plans can be announced at this time due to the uncertainty surrounding gathering restrictions. But if you want to partake in some Wonderland fun, join the team online. Do you have photos or videos of your favourite Wonderland memories? Send them in for a chance to win prizes! Canada’s Wonderland is ready to celebrate four decades of amusement park fun, rides and great entertainment. But they can’t do it without you! It’s the moments created by guests and associates that they want to celebrate. It’s your memories that make Canada’s Wonderland so special.
“We’re inviting you to leave your mark on this historic milestone by sharing your favourite memories with us,” Wonderland announces on its website. “Was it when you met Yogi Bear in Hanna-Barbera Land when you were a kid? Your first roller coaster ride? Or perhaps you worked at the park one summer and made lifelong friends. Maybe you met your future spouse here! We’d love to hear about it.” Don’t miss your chance to win prizes. By submitting your photos or videos, you’ll be entered into a draw to win one of 12 anniversary prize packs, featuring 5 single-day admissions, 5 all-day dining vouchers, and 5 Fast Lane Plus Passes!” Visit Wonderland’s website for more details.
For you trivia buffs out there, there is one more Canada’s Wonderland Trivia Night on April 15, 2021. “While we’re all at home this winter, we thought we’d have a little virtual fun to celebrate,” Wonderland says. “We’re inviting you to join us via Zoom for an amazing night of trivia each week. Question themes will take inspiration from the last four decades of park history, general pop culture, music and more! Play at home with your family or connect virtually with your friends for some friendly competition. Or put your heads together and play as a team! We’ll have giveaways and a chance to win prizes for top scores!”
I consider myself lucky to have grown up knowing the delights of Canada’s Wonderland, and all the fantastic, thrilling things to see and do over the years. But I have to admit—I am envious of those guests who get to experience the magic of this place for the first time. Visitors from other provinces and other countries, new Canadians making their own lifetime of memories… it truly does put the “wonder” in Wonderland.
Here’s to another 40 years… and to hoping I’m still up for conquering The Bat on my 80th birthday!
1 Canada’s Wonderland Drive, Vaughan
Story by Katherine Ryalen