The business of summer fun: How one Vernon water slide business stood the test of time - InfoNews

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The business of summer fun: How one Vernon water slide business stood the test of time

Westbank's Wild 'N Wet in the 1980s.
Image Credit: Old Kelowna/Beautiful British Columbia Magazine
June 13, 2020 - 10:41 AM

This will be the summer of the staycation.

There will be plenty to explore close to home, but long-time residents often lament how much there  once was. From Flintstone Village to zoos, this area had a lot of family fun ammenities that are now faded memories.

And, of course, there were the waterslides. Only a couple remain, so we took a look what was here and how one managed to survive.

In Vernon was once home to a branch of Big Country Water Slides, originally founded in 1978 as Canada’s first water slide manufacturing facility, up on L&A Road, but the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives communications officers Gwyneth Evans believes Splashdown Vernon, formerly Atlantis Waterslides, is the only large park the city has had.

In the Central Okanagan however, there used to be more options for locals.

Wild N’ Wet and Wild Waters were popular waterslide parks until the 1990s.

“Wild N’ Wet, in Westbank, proclaimed it was ‘the most exciting waterpark in the Okanagan.’ They might have been right. as they had three times more pool space than any other park in Canada and also boasted having the nation’s longest natural ravine river ride. Visitors got their thrills blasting down the ‘kamikaze’ slide and winding down the 360 degree twister slides," said Jasmine Marshall with the Kelowna Museums said via email.

"The waterpark had huge whirlpools for those in need of relaxation. Shade-seekers could visit the concession stand or watch cartoons in the small theatre. After Wild Waters closed down it was operated as Mariner’s Reef for several years before condos were built in its place,” she said.

The park was open from 1981 until roughly 1998.

Wild Waters was located in Kelowna on the corner of McCurdy Road and Highway 97 from 1981 to 1998.

“Wild Waters was more than waterslides. The park had other major attractions to appeal to a diverse range of patrons. When people tired of the slides or didn’t want to wait in line any longer they could play mini golf or video games. Adults could escape their kids and relax in the hot tubs,” Marshall said.

But why did these parks close down?

Splashdown Vernon owner Chris Steunenberg says pressures with operating costs and demands of customers make it increasingly difficult to operate.

“I think there’s still a market for family water sliding,” he said, adding that parents with children don’t want to be in a precarious situation, and they’re demanding a higher caliber product.

“To do that, you have to spend a lot of money in comforts and safety so if you own a waterpark or have owned a waterpark in the Okanagan, and if you didn’t want to pour a bunch of capital into it, you’re going to look at the alternative which is perhaps developing… into sometimes condos or other types of developments,” he said.

The Cultus Lake Waterpark owner, who purchased the Vernon waterpark in 2019, has operated waterparks for roughly 30 years.

“There are lots of challenges. Our operating costs have skyrocketed. Minimum wage and employment, with 400 seasonal employees, and the big challenge for us with minimum wage going up… we spend thousands of dollars to train someone for a job that lasts three months and they may or may not come back the next season.”

The waterslides are also competing with other larger parks like Six Flags and Disneyland, he said, which raises the customers’ expectations.

“Some companies weren’t willing or able to invest heavily in safety and improving the quality of their (parks.) The more viable option might have been to sell to a developer,” Steunenberg said.

“You drive by some of the (old waterpark) sites, and there are half a dozen parks in the Interior and Okanagan that have given way to shopping malls and condos.”

Whether Vernon’s waterpark will be able to open this summer is yet to be determined.

READ MORE: Cultus Lake, Vernon waterslides owner waiting to see if they can open

Salmon Arm also has its own set of waterslides, called Salmon Arm Waterslides. It currently plans to open in the summer months.

In the South Okanagan, waterslides are a contentious issue.

READ MORE: Proposed Skaha Park waterslide development attracts second lawsuit

Multiple lawsuits were at one time filed against a proposed Skaha Park waterslide development in 2016. The development didn’t go through after it faced public backlash against its agreement with the city to develop the waterpark using public land. The development was eventually scrapped.

The Penticton Museum and Archives and Kamloops Museum and Archives could not be reached for comment.

Westbank's Wild 'N Wet in the 1980s.
Westbank's Wild 'N Wet in the 1980s.
Image Credit: Old Kelowna/Beautiful British Columbia Magazine

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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