Kelowna's Amusing Past

Kelowna Museums’ exhibitions co-ordinator and her brother have fun at Bedrock City in this June 1985 photo.

Is laughing a thing of the past in Kelowna?

An exhibit opening in mid-August at the Okanagan Heritage Museum recalls the many family-oriented diversions and entertainments that once dotted the city’s landscape.

Places like Bedrock City and events like Snowfest. Attractions like Wild ’N Wet waterslides and weekend destinations like Boyd’s Drive-In.

Long gone also are the Malibu Grand Prix race course, Old McDonald’s Farm and the Okanagan Zoo.

“Kelowna used to really market itself as a entertainment city for families, and this new exhibition looks back at the attractions and festivals that were really popular in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” museum curator Linda Digby said Tuesday.

There was a down-home feel to many of the city’s former tourist attractions, most of which were operated by families rather than corporations, Digby says.

“We’re not talking about Disneyland,” she said. “They were pretty simple and small in scale, but they were places where people could go to get lifted out of their lives for a while and just have fun.”

As Kelowna grew and development pressures increased, rising land values spelled the end for many of the attractions.

For example, the Boardwalk, an old roller rink, became the McCurdy Plaza strip mall; tiny race cars at Malibu gave way to a real car dealership; Wild ’N Wet transformed into a condo complex; big box retailers grew where Old McDonald’s Farm once stood.

Volunteer burnout, with a diminishing number of people willing to do all the work, scuppered festivals like Snowfest, a mid-winter celebration that ran between 1974 and 2009.

Rising insurance and legal costs might also have played a role in the demise of some of the attractions, Digby speculates.

Of course, the Kelowna Regatta, once the granddaddy of all Kelowna festivals, dissolved after two successive years of rioting in 1986 and ’87.

In a way, though, the event lives on in the Lady of the Lake pageant and the Across the Lake Swim, with the origins of each dating back to the earliest Regattas.

Kelowna’s Amusing Past runs at the downtown museum from Aug. 17 to Nov. 18.