Recently, I came across a story on the Creepy Pasta site about a story titled ‘Abandoned By Disney’ based loosely on one of it’s unsuccessful theme parks. While the writer took some supernatural liberties to keep it interesting, the fact remains that there are a few attractions that Disney has dreamed up, built, dumped large sums of capital into only to say ‘fuck it’ and forget it. They’re not alone in this. There’s a ridiculous amount of forgotten theme parks, attractions, zoos, and other distractions that have closed their gates and begun to return to the earth from whence they came. These places are the stuff of horror and dark fantasies, not least of all my own. But in water-locked Vancouver the idea of an ‘abandoned’ anything to break into and explore when real estate has now become such an over inflated premium is something of a pipe dream.
Or is it?
I’ve spent a large portion of my life transversing the highways of Canada with most of my time spent on the road of British Columbia and Alberta. Not just from touring as a showgirl, but also in my formative years on family holidays and vacations. Places that were etched into the fabric of my childhood when I go to think about it and try to excavate memories of these place from the deeply swirled folds of my brain, I come up empty. Google searches yield results of many of these places falling to the wrecking ball and built on top of, or single relics left over and left for future generations to puzzle over and ponder.
But amazingly enough BC actually has their fair share of creepy throwbacks that either still exist or have one last bastion of their greater heyday left behind. Nothing as lyrical or amazing as Tim Burton’s abandoned zoo from Batman Returns, just places that are quietly being taken back to nature and no longer the roadside distractions that they once were…
THE VANCOUVER ZOO. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s that old game farm out in the valley which always struck me as nothing more than someone’s exotic pet collection that go out of hand. No, I’m starting my list off in downtown Vancouver. Growing up Stanley Park boasted not only the Aquarium but a zoo. A free zoo. In the middle of the park. As awesome as it sounds it wasn’t the best for the animals there who were later dispersed to better equipped zoos. The only thing that remains there other than the Aquarium (which charged to get into it, thereby being able to sustain itself) is the bear pit. Once host to the polar bear, Snowball, on one side and assorted black bears who were likely perplexed to be so close to the North Shore mountains and yet in this weird enclosure. It’s since been used by Karen Lam as a set for one of her films, but now is home to smaller members of the bear family, mostly a large community of raccoons. Very eerie to come upon it at night in the park standing empty.
SEALAND OF THE PACIFIC. Built in 1968 in Oak Bay, Victoria by Bob Wright it grew to fame for it’s orcas. Back when the capture and captivity was considered a little more socially acceptable just because you were a wealthy real estate magnate with a sports fishing hobby, Sealand went through a series of a orca captures from ’68 through to ’77 and later agreed to set one free (who died before he could be released) in exchange for more whales from Iceland. The final nail in this attraction’s coffin was the 1991 death of trainer Keltie Byrne who fell into the orca pool and was drowned by the whales. The remaining whales were shipped to various Sea World parks and forgotten about until recently when the film Blackfish was released showing the mental anguish that these animals have been forced to live through. Sealand is still owned by Oak Bay Marine Group, though the death of Byrne effectively closed it’s doors as a marine park for good.
FLINTSTONES BEDROCK CITY. Not one but TWO. One in Kelowna in the Interior of BC and one outside of the GVRD in Hope. Although the Kelowna one was bulldozed back into the ground as late as 1998, the one in Hope later (after numerous back-and-forth lawsuits) later became Dusty’s Dinotown. Which also closed down. However, as the derelict dinosaurs stand guard on the side of Hwy 1 as sentries, the man behind Dinotown has plans to reopen the park this summer… as he’s said for the last few years.
These places are the seeds that form wonderful flights of fancy, giving our grown-up minds more to play with than the physical places actually did as children. Despite paint worn off of attractions, leaves gathered at the bottom of old cages never to be cleared out, and the haunted feeling of these forgotten places and the dreams they once represented, I’m glad for everything that built them up and equally as grateful for the fact they were also left behind for make believe for future generations…
Little Miss Risk