Calaway Park is Western Canada's largest outdoor family amusement park. The park is located in Springbank, Alberta, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of the city limits of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway.
The park features a variety of rides including a large log flume, called "Timber Falls", rides "Chaos" and "Storm", and the park's two biggest attractions: "The Vortex", its corkscrew roller coaster, and the "Dream Machine", a 56-passenger swing ride. There are many other rides that are unique to the park.
Calaway Park currently has approximently 30 rides, 20 food locations, 23 games, and covers 90 acres (0.36 km). The park has been in continuous seasonal operation since 1982.
The park was created by John McAfee, a former Red Deer lawyer, and 15 other investors from British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. Around 1979, the group paid $500,000 to Hanna-Barbera Productions for the licensing rights to the characters and locations in The Flintstones. While the original TV show ended in 1966, various Saturday morning series continued the basic plot lines, including The New Fred and Barney Show (1979) and The Flintstone Comedy Show. In addition to the Flintstones theme, a Victorian motif was planned for the park; similar to the Grande World Exposition of 1890 in Canada's Wonderland, which opened in 1981. It was presumed by park founders that parents' entrance fees, along with food and gift purchases, would pay operating costs.
Originally planned as Flintstone Fun Park, the project was to cost $8 million; costs "mushroomed" during an energy and real estate boom. The park cost $25 million, including $3 million for the primary corkscrew roller coaster.
Tied up with development appeals
On 16 October 1979, Municipal District of Rocky View No. 44 councillors voted 6 to 1 approve the Flintstone Fun Park, the opposing vote coming from the Springbank councillor. The approval came after council sat as the Development Appeal Board over a six-week period, and included a field-trip to "similar" parks in the United States. During hearings, residents submitted that it would ruin their rural lifestyle, while the Calgary Regional Planning Commission suggested it would not comply with established planning documents. The approval came with the requirements that there be a distance between it and two nearby schools, that the park and parking lot be in the north end of the property, that development beyond the initial 60 acres (of a total 143 acres) would require further development application and approval, and that the park comply with a noise provision. The park was to have all layout plans, landscaping, landscaping materials, operation practices, and entrance and exit signs meet with M.D. approval. Bill Copithorne, councillor for the Springbank area, suggested to the media that conditions weren't specific enough for residents.
The Alberta Appeal Court (AAC) ordered a second hearing by the council, again sitting as the Development Appeal Board. The hearing took place in June 1980; three of the councillors were disqualified by the AAC for having visited the American parks previously. The developers argued that they felt 90 per cent of area residents wouldn't object once they visited the park and realized they'd be "proud" of it. If approved, the developers suggested that they would welcome a committee "mostly of opponents" to have a say in planning the park. Locals objected to a proposed fake mountain. McAfee denied knowledge of a statement of company objectives, which included the creation of an on-site hotel. Both sides argued whether the park met the definition of a country recreation centre.
The Flintstone Fun Park developers felt 200,000 people would visit in the first year, and somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 annually after a decade or two. By this point, the expectation was that there would be a four-lane overpass above Springbank Road, to lessen the traffic disruption. McAfee said the company did not expect to be profitable in the first few years. Approval was given with conditions.
A cement truck depot was seeking to move into Springbank at the same time, it too was opposed. It was blocked quickly on the grounds that the regional plan limited industry in rural areas.
Nine land owners filed a motion in the Alberta Appeal Court in mid-July, seeking permission to challenge the ruling on the grounds that council acted contrary to both a local by-law and the Calgary regional plan, didn't adequately explain its decision, and overstepped its powers by attaching conditions.
Without the ability to ask the Alberta Planning Board (APB) themselves, the Springbank Action Group (SAG) asked in February 1981 that the Calgary Regional Planning Commission or Rocky View school board refer the matter to the APB, using recent legislation that allowed it to settle the situation. Once either organisation had brought the matter to the APB, the SAG would take over from them and represent the opposition. SAG would probably concede if the APB voted against them, but would be able to appeal the ruling in the courts should the APB rule against the park.
With its major challenges out of the way, Flintstone Fun Park changed its name to Calaway Park, and was under development by January 1982.
Bill Copithorne, the sole dissenting vote in the Municipal District's initial approval, was now the Rocky View reeve. Talking at an 11 January 1982, town hall meeting organized by the new citizen's group Partners in Progress, Copithorne warned that further development would be inevitable along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor. He called for a new general plan to ensure that further additions would be "high-class". A proposed commercial strip would include a motel and RV campground. The director of the Calgary Regional Planning Commission disagreed with Copithorne's statement of "inevitability"; a hearing on the motel and campground were scheduled for 22 January. Rocky View's planning director noted that a commercial zone might not happen, and commercial development in Springbank might happen away from the highway as well. Simultaneously, Municipal Affairs Minister Marvin Moore was considering further Municipal District representation for the Springbank and Bearspaw areas, a request triggered by residents after high population growth.
Area resident Mary Luzi asked the area government to block the creation of a 31-metre-high rollercoaster; this was unsuccessful. McAfee, who lived a "half-mile away" from the park site, admitted he would be displeased if he could see a corkscrew roller coaster from his house. The coaster was painted in earth tones, to blend in with the foothills. Said Luzi: "What does that do when there are still purple and red roofs, along with oranges, yellows and blues?" Trees, bushes, and landscaping were to block the sitelines.
By opening day in 1982, the boom in Calgary had passed. The city was mired in recession and forecasting a decrease in population for the first time in a century. Unlike in the United States, there were many government-supported rival attractions, such as the Calgary Zoo and Calgary Stampede.
Initial entrance fee to the park was a "hefty" $11.95, with unlimited access to attractions. This is standard within the industry; all attractions were available with one ticket at Disneyland as of June 1982. Canadians objected to this simplified plan. The 14 attractions included The Flintstones themed attractions, the Corkscrew roller coaster, a petting zoo, and Cinema 180; entertainment included costumed characters of the Flintstones.
American Kent Lamasters was hired as general manager.
By 1983, the park was facing 17 lawsuits totaling $1 million, including from Batra Construction Ltd. ($772,000), Canadian Western Natural Gas, the Municipal District of Rocky View, and the Canadian federal government.
It sought help from the provincial government's Department of Tourism and Small Business. The government was not interested in the park from an equity standpoint. Alberta Opportunity Co., a Crown corporation set up to finance or assist management of viable small and medium businesses in the province, was not approached, at least in the early stage.
On 11 February 1983, the park landed in receivership, with Touche Ross Ltd. (now known as Deloitte) continuing its operations. All 17 lawsuits were stayed upon receivership.
To attempt to attain profitability, the park cut admission fees, started events, and began a $1.1 million capital expansion. All of the changes were aimed at older age groups; the child-centric Flintstones theme was considered too minor to support the large facility; dropping the licensing fees helped fund the renovations. Along with new shows and rides, a restaurant was to feature more sophisticated foods and a liquor license The admission cut was based on general manager Lemaster's success at Silver Dollar City, doing the same while marking things up within the park. Gordon Dixon bought the park, and management reformatted the attraction as an amusement park, rather than a theme park. A third of the landscaping was lost after the first season, as their Ontario landscaper was not familiar with the dry Alberta weather conditions.
After the 1984 season ended, receiver Touche Ross ended its stay. A deal with Northland Bank went into effect during the autumn, after waiting for government approval. Northland bought the park from its original owners, selling the new company (Calalta Amusements Ltd.) back on better terms. It took over loans of $3.5 million from the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America Canada. They saw promise in attendance numbers, and kept the park open for 1985. (Northland itself was financially shaky, with declared loan losses of $4.5 million in 1983. Northland folded in 1985.)
"Reforming turned us around"
During the off-season between 1984 and 1985, there was a rearranging of $17 million of debt, which allowed the park to return to profitability. The 1985 season saw the addition of AquaRage, Canada's only dry-wet ride. This was to replace a large log ride that was too chilly, given the climate. Concerts included Doug and the Slugs, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and various contemporary tribute acts. By the end of their fourth season, Calaway Park turned a profit, despite 35 bad weather days, 10 above the expected average. The company continued to make loan payments to Northland as part of its five-year loan.
When the park opened in 1982, many of the buildings, merchandise, and rides were styled around licensed Hanna-Barbera characters. These can be still seen today in some of the older and colourful Flintstones-style buildings. The licensing was dropped in favour of reinvesting the funds into tangible capital projects to improve the grounds. The park has generally avoided licensing since, aside from its Theodore Tugboat soft playground. The park has paid outside licensees, including for 2009 appearances by Dora, Diego, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Early in their career, in the 1980s, Blue Rodeo did a performance at Calaway Park; their five performance booking was poorly received by the mothers and children at the park.
In 1988 Calaway Park introduced two mascots, Jack Bunny and Jill O' Hare, who can now be seen roaming the streets of the Park; The Jack and Jill Club 10th Birthday Bash! musical was presented in 2005. The club is open to season pass holders aged 3 to 12.
The park's director of marketing, Bob Williams, became known throughout the Calgary tourist attraction scene as "The Coupon King". As of 2003, the park would flood the market with 3 million coupons a year, including direct mail discounts to 800,000 households; of those mailed coupons, 70,000 are redeemed. They estimate over 75% of admissions are discounted.
In 2001, the park developed five new acres of land of the 160 acres (0.65 km2) Calaway owns. The Corkscrew Roller Coaster underwent a major transformation in 2005, including a new paint scheme, a new theme, and a new name, becoming The Vortex Roller Coaster. The Vortex roller coaster is 70 feet (21 m) tall and has two inversions. The park's gas-powered bumper boats were taken out of service, and newer environment-friendly electric powered boats featuring water squirt guns were introduced, becoming The BumperBoat Splash Challenge! Two thrill rides were also repainted and renamed that year, as the Mountain Scrambler became Adrenaline Test Zone and the family thrill ride SkyRider became the Wave Rider. Also added was Halloweekends, a five-weekend event during which the park undergoes a haunted transformation, including an updated Haunted Hotel, Freaky Food, a Spooktacular Stage Show, and many characters roaming the streets of the park.
In 2005, park management expressed interest in additional roller coasters. "Twiz & Twirl: The World's First Interactive Dual-Zone Maze" and thrill ride Chaos were added in 2005, with chair swing Swing Around taken out for next year's The Storm. The park's 25th anniversary, the next year, added The Storm: Mother Nature's Thrill Ride, children's swing ride Swirly Twirl, and U-Drive: Safety School of Motoring, a renovated Turnpike. The park entrance was renovated. Drop tower Free Fallin' replaced Topsy Turvy, swing ride The Dream Machine, ferris wheel Balloon Ascension, and Flying Ace were added in 2007. The Park became a kilometre closer to Calgary in 2007 after the city expanded its borders. Family ride Tip Top was retired at the end of the season. Samba Spin was added in 2008.
Mind Blaster debuted for the 30th anniversary of the park in 2011. As of late July, the park attendance was down 3%, due to a "cool wet spring." July has been "good for business", with August traditionally their busiest month.
Their troupe of live performers performs shows written and produced by Chris Thompson, the park's entertainment director. They produce four to six shows annually, targeted at families with children 2 to 14.
Almost half a million visited in 2003, double the 210,000 in 1991, also doubling the in-park revenue. The 500,000 number continued as of the 2010 season. up from 575 in 2004. As of 2003, they had 65,000 season pass holders. The park had record breaking attendance in July and August. Fifty percent of ticket sales are in the Christmas period, when Calaway does extensive marketing of its tickets as "stocking stuffers". While the park is deemed an "important" tourist draw in the Rocky View County, CrossIron Mills with its planned racetrack and casino is expected to supplant the park as the biggest draw.
Calaway and the University of Calgary offer a physics program involving roller coasters. The Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association hosts an annual "Light Up a Child's Life" event at the park, free for mentally or physically challenged children and their parents.
In 2013, RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust and Tanger Factory Outlet Centers announced the intended Q3 purchase of a 35-acre parcel of land, "with the intention to develop the land into an outlet centre of approximately 350,000 square feet."
The sale would be to surplus land, not the park itself. Tourism Calgary reported that numbers at attractions were strong in summer 2013, including those from out of town, following the 2013 Alberta floods.
Employment and staffing
Calaway Park staff includes 40 full-time staff and over 650 seasonal employees, Thousands of applications are received annually, as of the 2009 season. Each employee receives a minimum of 20 general training hours, and 5 to 12 department training hours. About two-thirds of all guest comments about employees are positive. In 2000, the Conference Board of Canada named the park the "Top Employer of Youth", in Canada.
Department managers, as of 2003, were allowed to run their operation as if "separate businesses", to give a more entrepreneurial drive. Permanent staff are encouraged to actively participate in the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, to gain new ideas, and ensure the park doesn't remain creatively isolated. In 2010, it won "Best Reward and Recognition Program (Facility under 1 million)" from IAAPA's Human Resources Excellence Awards.
Present Roller Coasters (3)
|Bumble Blast||Gosetto||Spinning Coaster||2019|
|Mini Express||Zamperla||Mini Mouse||2013|
Past Roller Coasters (1)
|Super Jet||Wisdom Rides||Sooper Jet||2002||2012|
In 2008, the ride SuperJet allegedly started before all children had boarded, an incident which did not result in injuries. There have also been multiple reports of young children receiving second degree burns in the Theodore the Tugboat play area due to a combination of the temperature of black rubber mats sitting in direct sunlight and Calaway Park's policy that children not wear shoes on the play structure. Theodore Tugboat is no longer an attraction at Calaway Park.