Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crystal Palace closed yesterday.

Crystal Palace was a magical indoor amusement park that I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy while growing up. It was a place I went to with family and young friends: a place for March Breaks and birthday parties. I had my first actual date with a boy in grade 6 at Crystal Palace, too--we went on a bunch of rides, won a purple plush bulldog and saw a movie together, back in the days that the theatre and park were connected. The connection was only removed in the last few years, and I remember experiencing a wave of nostalgia every time I would leave the movie theatre, met by the sounds of excited children screaming on the roller coaster.  I'll always have fond memories of getting my face painted and riding on the giant swing set to be propelled through the air across the park. I felt like I was flying. And, of course, I'll always remember challenging friends to the Laser Runner laser tag game.

One last shot of the Crystal Palace sign.
Animaritime, a convention I've been staffing at off and on since 2008, took place in the convention centre in Crystal Palace for their 2007 event. That year, I played mini-golf while dressed like a comic book character, made some incredible friends, and got to experience the ridiculous fun of being at a convention in an indoor amusement park. It was a perfect location, but sadly the convention centre wasn't big enough to house the growing convention.

Recently, my husband Brad and I stopped in at Chapters to browse around.  We decided we'd take a walk through Crystal Palace. We have a little one on the way, after all, and we talked about how much we were looking forward to bringing the child there when he or she is old enough. A few weeks later, we heard the sad news that Crystal Palace would be closing at the end of the day on September 1st, so this was never going to happen. We decided we would bring the baby there anyway--so to speak--before the place closed, for one last night of fun and fond memories.

So, the night of Friday, August 29th, we went. We spent the evening playing games and trying to win a prize for the little one, since I couldn't go on any rides. We had discovered the day before that we are to have a little girl, and we were going to try and win her a stuffed dragon. At one point in the night, as we took a break between games, a young girl came up to us and handed us several tickets, saying "you can have these". I looked at her parents, who were with her, and asked if she was sure she wouldn't rather have them for herself. She insisted, and her mother smiled at me and said "we know you're trying to win something for your baby". Brad and I accepted the tickets gratefully, and noticed that they included a slip for over 300 tickets. I tried keep myself together as I put the slip with our other winnings, and the two of us took a break to grab a snack at Pretzelmaker. As we sat with our snack, we watched a a young boy and his father riding the Jumpin' Star together. The look of joy on the little boy's face was unmistakable. A lot of people are going to miss this place, I thought.

We went to cash in our tickets at the end of the night, and the man behind the counter informed us that they would be honouring all tickets in double from Saturday until the park's closure on Monday evening. We decided to come back the following morning, get a few more tickets, and get our baby girl an even better prize--prolonging our goodbye just a little longer. Before we left, a janitor stopped to chat with us, asking us if either of us remembered the bumper boats from the nineties. Since I did, he brought out a little bag and gave me one of the admission tickets, which hadn't been used in years. It had the old logo on it and everything.

Our spoils of the day: a blue squishy kitty, a yellow Furby-like
creature, a plastic purple flute, a Red Wings hat keychain, and
a small glow-in-the-dark ring.
We spent Saturday morning throwing skee balls up ramps, hitting inanimate objects with hammers, and shooting a few basketball hoops until we had enough tickets for the dragon. As I waited in line, though, the last dragon was claimed by another prize-goer. The lines were so long that weekend that this wasn't a surprise, so instead we walked away with a plush cat dressed in blue, as well as a few other smaller prizes that we'll be able to give our little girl through the various stages of her life.

As one does, we took one last look at the park before we left. I watched the beautiful swing set, which had been my favourite ride growing up, and thought to myself that our little girl would grow up in a Moncton with no Crystal Palace. Maybe this seems like unnecessary sentimentality, but we were far from the only ones to come and say goodbye. On Monday afternoon, a group of our friends went to have one last hurrah with the rides and games. They then showed up at our doorstep with their own present for our baby: they had pooled all their tickets together to get her an adorable plush panda. This is another special final memory for the park--one I wasn't even present for.

I'm frustrated that yet more local businesses are being cleared out to make room for big box retailers. Perhaps the numbers of attendees have dwindled over the years for Crystal Palace, but the fact remains that over 150 people are losing their jobs, and a place full of fond memories is going to close down after almost 25 years of business. Crystal Palace was one of the Greater Moncton Area's biggest tourist attractions. Change is usually good, but the change from a family-friendly venue to an enormous hunting and fishing shop is going to take some getting used to. I remain hopeful, as Magic Mountain has stated that they will expand their park to make room for some of the rides, and may open a smaller-scale indoor facility. At the very least, it will be a fun place to go in the summer, but it won't be the same, and it may not be year-round. At least the memories will remain.

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