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Vancouver’s Iconic Rollercoaster: 65 Years and Durable as Ever!

Unlike its steel equivalent, the all-timer ride will live forever as worn-out parts are replaced piece by piece!


Sat 12 Aug 23

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Properly maintained, the wooden coaster will last “forever” because you can replace worn-out parts piece by piece.

As reported by the Vancouver Sun, the landmark that has delighted fair-goers, thrill-seekers, and rollercoaster enthusiasts for decades

And after recent refurbishments, the Pacific Northwest Exhibition (PNE) said its wooden rollercoaster is here to stay for decades. 

Vancouver councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung declared Wednesday “Playland wooden rollercoaster day” on behalf of the City of Vancouver.

Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports Lana Popham (front car left) and PNE Board Chair Sarah Kirby-Young (right) joined others to ride the wooden roller coaster at the PNE in Vancouver, BC, Wednesday, August 2, 2023.

She recalled childhood memories of working up the courage to ride the coaster. 

“When you go up the tracks, it has this clickety-clack sound that modern technology can’t imitate,” said Kirby-Yung. “It’s pure exhilaration.” 

“More than 32 million riders have experienced the stomach-churning drop, the snaky back hills and the camel drops of this iconic ride,” said PNE president and CEO Shelley Frost.

A regular Wood Central reader – a Canadian now residing in Australia- confirmed the wooden rollercoaster’s durability.

“The durability of wood even in wet Vancouver condition,” the reader said.

“I rode this roller coaster when I was 11 years old!”

Unfortunately, the publisher was too shy to ask how long ago that was!

The PNE’s Superdogs are pictured on the coaster while stopped. (Submitted by the PNE)

The rollercoaster is lifted a hill via a chain, then drops from the sky, sending it careening around the track in curves and dips.

The remarkable thing is that after the first hill, it’s all done by gravity.

“Carl Phare was the architect, the engineer and the designer, and before his death called this roller coaster his greatest design achievement,” said Frost.

Phare’s family recently discovered the original blueprints for the coaster design, dated Dec. 10, 1957. They have donated them to the PNE, which will keep them in its archive.

“The one remaining testament to my grandfather’s work is here in Vancouver,” Phare’s grandson Toby Fraley said in a statement. “When I climb aboard this ride, I feel as if I can sense his presence.”

A photo taken in the 1950s shows the wooden rollercoaster in the background of the PNE fair grounds. (Submitted by the PNE)

Phare’s partner in the build was Walker Leroy, who told the Vancouver Sun in 1998 that the coaster is made from “select” high-altitude Douglas fir (“it has a real tight growth ring on it, and the knots are spaced out, so you just get beautiful wood out of it”).

A coaster enthusiast’s favourite

American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) designated Playland’s wooden coaster as a “Coaster Landmark” and a “Coaster Classic” in 2009.

The organisation considers wooden rollercoasters “an endangered species,” as they have been slowly phased out with the rise of rides made from steel.

The wooden roller-coaster sign is pictured during an event marking its 65th anniversary at Playland at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in Vancouver, B.C., on August 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Ethan Cairns/CBC)

ACE member Tim Baldwin told CBC News on the coaster’s 60th anniversary that riding it is “just magnificent.”

Wooden-coaster memories

Frost said the coaster has cultural significance for many Vancouverites, as it’s been the site of many double dares, first dates, and even marriages. 

In the early 2000s, a couple, accompanied by their wedding party and a pastor, had their marriage ceremony at the top of the initial drop. 

“Just as they were saying their ‘I do’s, they let it go,” said Frost. “It was kind of a spectacular experience.” 

The world’s largest timber amphitheatre to join the rollercoaster

As reported in July, the new PNE Amphitheatre has taken another step towards construction, with Vancouver City Council voting to approve an increase in loan financing for the project.

Ms Frost expressed her enthusiasm for the project, stating, “The arena will be a jewel in Vancouver’s crown of spectacular venues.”

Artist’s impression of the new mass timber amphitheatre in Vancouver (Image credit: PNE)
Artist’s impression of the new mass timber amphitheatre in Vancouver. (Image credit: PNE)

“The project will highlight British Columbia building products and engineering while adhering to the highest environmental sustainability standards.”

“We believe there will not be another venue like this anywhere in Canada.”

Vancouver-based Revery Architecture designed the venue’s unique roof structure, which, when completed, will be one of the most extended clear-span roofs in the world.

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  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.

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