If you spent a summer day in London, ON, prior to 2002, you knew where to go when the sun shone brightly…
Wally World. Yes, it was the place of dreams for so many years. It was a water park wonderland that stepped out of the fictitious frames of National Lampoon’s Vacation and became a reality in good old London town.
Each season, when the clock struck June and the city was all aflutter with summer lovin’, Londoners had one thing on their mind… getting to Wally World!
You were either a cool teenager who got to meet your crush under the umbrella fountain, an over-excited adolescent just waiting for that year-end trip, or a tired parent who was sick of your child’s begging. No matter which situation it was, the successful outcome was a big ol’ trip to Wally World in that beaver wood station wagon.
I must admit, as a Londoner born and raised, I lament this place each summer. This summer has been particularly reminiscent. Due to the unveiling of East Park’s new wave pool (which is awesome but let’s be real, Wally World was the OG) the reminiscing has been particularly pointed. So, let’s look back on how this aquatic paradise came to be, how it evolved and what caused the downfall of a true London legend.
Memory Lane, once located at Wonderland and Southdale…
Having officially opened in 1985 as a mini putt course, Wally World was the creation of local concrete guru Nick Spivak, and specifically, his concrete company N-J Spivak Ltd. With tremendous success on the business front (also establishing and operating FireRock Golf Course and the Oaks Golf Club), it wouldn’t be long before Wally World expanded to become the amusement park we remember and love.
By 1987, N-J Spivak Ltd. poured, set, and built the water park. Then came the batting cages, then came the go-kart track, then came newer, faster slides, then came the wave pool, and then came thousands of memories that locals and visitors alike would cherish the rest of their lives.
It was Wally World and it was glorious.
Gone, but kinda not, and certainly not forgotten…
Wally World had a wonderful 17-year run but sadly, in 2002 the tides of recreation started changing and it had to close its doors and drain its pools. Amidst “possible land use change” signs and the need for urban sprawl developments, the land and name were sold. On the plus side, you can still get a taste of its former, Poseidon-worthy glory at East Park, because some slides were taken there and installed after closure.
Yet, that 1980s/90s seemingly dangerous, overly idealistic, but still gritty charm… it’s just not there. You can take the slides out of the waterpark, and apparently, you can take the water park out of the slides too.
For many years the grounds sat untouched with greenery taking over the go-cart track and up until 2014 (before the full demolition and newly sprouted box stores), you could even still catch a glimpse of the mini putt courses.
Sigh! But that’s just the way the urban cookie (and concrete) crumbles.
Who else remembers…
But, let’s not get all sad about it, let’s remember the good stuff because one of the things that make Wally World so great are the memories we have and shared there. In that spirit, let’s reminisce.
1 – Those super seasoned, salty, kettle chips in the paper cone from the concession stand. Damnnnn. I think about them often.
2 – The Lazy River. As a kid, you had about 5 minutes before you wanted back on the slides. But, dare get out early and hundreds of pea stones attacked your feet on the bottom. Glorious.
3 – The height restrictions. The day you finally achieved big-slide-status. Euphoria.
4 – The wedgies. The Bullet, the Caterpillar… where did your bathing suit bottoms even go?
5 – That wave pool. Scary machinery sloshing 50 screaming kids around. Awesome! And it’ll always be the original.
I could go on forever but will leave it here: Wally World, we miss you dearly, but at least we’ll always have the ability to relive childlike wonder while looking back.
Now, I’ll leave it to you, what was your favourite memory of Wally World? Let us know in the comments!
Feature photo by Jim Rankin, London Free Press, 1991