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The crumbling remains of Erie Beach Amusement Park

March 2022

When walking through Waverly Beach Park in Fort Erie, Ontario, you will past by numerous concrete formations, some looking like breakwalls along the water’s edge, along with other seemingly random posts and slabs scattered along the water’s edge and throughout the woodlot just off the waterfront boardwalk.

These are the crumbling remains of the former Erie Beach Amusement Park. Beginning in 1885 as Snake Hill Grove Park, a simple picnic area in the woods along Lake Erie, it would eventually evolve into quite an extensive leisure and entertainment destination. Due to its location on the Ontario-New York State border, it catered to both Canadian and American patrons.

While Canadian guests could arrive by land, American guests usually arrived by boat, operated by the Buffalo & Fort Erie Ferry Railway, also known by passengers as the “Sandfly Express,” which docked at a pier at the foot of Bertie Street that stretched out around 1000 feet into Lake Erie.

The 65-room Erie Beach Hotel opened in 1905, an elegant hotel looking out to Lake Erie, where guests could enjoy extended stays.

By 1910, the park had grown to feature various food and game concessions, amusement rides including roller coasters, a Tumble Bug ride and an elevated Plane Ride.

Other attractions that the guests of the park could enjoy included live entertainment in the casino, or in two small stadiums featuring circus acts and equestrian shows, swimming in the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool along the lake’s edge and enjoy walk along a beautiful lakefront promenade, lit at night by electric lights.

Erie Beach Park also had an Armitage-Herschell Company carousel model called “Flying Ponies”, only three of which were ever made. One of the ponies currently resides at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, New York. An Erie Beach ride ticket was discovered inside its body during restoration.

By the 1920s, Erie Beach was facing stiff competition from Crystal Beach Amusement Park, which had opened three years after Erie Beach, just a few miles west. What ultimately spelt the end of Erie Beach Amusement Park was the stock market crash of 1929. Erie Beach never recovered and it closed the following year after the Labour Day weekend.

After the amusement park closed, rides were sold off, and most structures were torn down. The Hotel burned down in 1935, but the Casino would stand until 1976, when the partially collapsed building was demolished after sitting abandoned for decades.

Waverly Beach Park is accessed by taking Helena Street in Fort Erie south to the lakeshore. A new concrete promenade was built in 2008 atop the old one, so visitors can walk along the Lake Erie shoreline just as visitors have for over 100 years.

Interpretive plaques telling the history of the old amusement park have been placed along the promenade, which features modern concrete posts were styled after the original lamp post bases.

Sources: Abandoned Ontario: Erie Beach Amusement Park | SkyscraperCity Forum, Exploring Niagara | Erie Beach Amusement Park, Old Erie Beach Amusement Park – Fort Erie | Ontario – 1000 Towns of Canada, Crystal Beach Park – Wikipedia, WNED PBS Specials | Remembering Crystal Beach Park | PBS, www.specialtystudio.com/erie.htm, CEC: Closed Canadian Parks – Erie Beach Park (chebucto.org).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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