Ontario: Waterparks hope to open this summer, but need the province’s OK

Excerpt from CBC News Kate Bueckert

With hot summer days approaching, Ontario waterpark operators are hoping people will be able to get their adrenaline pumping on a waterslide, float along a lazy river or splash in a wave pool.
Last summer, water parks in the province were not able to open because of COVID-19 restrictions.

That’s led some operators in southern Ontario to band together and form a coalition to lobby the government to make sure they’re not closed for a second summer.

Mark Bingeman of Bingemans in Kitchener, which operates Big Splash, says conversations with the tourism ministry about the coming summer began last fall.

“When we look at all the waterparks across the province going a second season without being open, it would certainly be devastating,” Bingeman said in an interview with CBC News.

“We certainly expect reduced capacity and various protocols, not only for our staff, but obviously for protocols for guests that they would have to sign off on as they’re coming in to just to make sure that we will do the right thing and and keep each other safe.”

Bingeman adds that operators need to know if they can open sooner, rather than later, so they can get equipment ready and hire staff for when the hot weather arrives.

Now a ‘critical time’
Alon Shatil, general manager and part of the ownership team at East Park in London — which has a waterpark along with golf, rock climbing and an arcade on site — says waterpark operators understand there were many unknowns last year which prevented them from opening.

While it was disappointing they couldn’t open in 2020, Shatil says he doesn’t want to dwell on it and agrees with Bingeman that the sooner they know about this summer, the better.

“Waterparks don’t turn on in a day,” he told CBC News. “There’s a lot of lead time that’s required in order to get the facilities ready, fill the pools, get all the maintenance done, the inspections, and hire and train the staff. So that’s why now is sort of a critical time, because right now is when we need to start that process going.”

The waterslides at Bingemans stayed dry last summer because the province didn’t allow waterparks to open due to COVID-19. Waterpark operators across Ontario hope they’ll be allowed to welcome people this year when the hot weather returns. (Craig Norris/CBC)
Steve Mayer, general manager of Wet ‘n’ Wild in Toronto, said waterparks already have many safety protocols in place and adjusting for COVID-19 would not take much.

“Waterparks have chlorinated pools, ultraviolet light from the sun and specialized equipment and fresh air to fight the spread of the virus, not to mention enforcing physical distancing and other safety measures to keep guests and staff safe,” Mayer in a news release for the Waterparks of Ontario Coalition.

“We have seen by experience that even in a pandemic, waterparks are a perfectly safe option for a fun family staycation.”

Keeping people safe
The Waterparks of Ontario Coalition points to Quebec where water parks opened last summer without any reports of associated outbreaks.

Mont Cascades waterpark in Cantley, Que., was allowed to operate at one-third capacity while Calypso Waterpark in Limoges, Ont., near Ottawa, wasn’t able to open at all.

Calypso Valcartier Group operates both Mont Cascades and Calypso. Senior director Sandra Nadeau says in Quebec, operators know they’ll be able to open waterparks once the community is in “yellow” in that province’s colour-coded system.

In Ontario, there’s no clear path forward. She says it will take between three to four weeks at a minimum to get ready to open the gates for their parks, so the sooner they can know, the better.

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