Last year, I lived out my deepest childhood dreams on a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. When I first visited Universal Studios 14 years ago, J.K. Rowling was still in the process of writing the sixth book in her series, so the Harry Potter theme park didn’t even exist yet.
But the wait to revisit was well worth it. It was almost everything a Harry Potter fan could ask for, whether you were a fan of the movies or the books. I say “almost” because it wasn’t entirely perfect — Hogwarts could have been an actual building to explore and not just a wait line for a ride, the cold butter beer could have tasted better than wet nickels, the “artisan” wands on sale could have been of better quality, and so on. But once you’re there, you kind of forget about all those things because you’re just so goddamn happy to be there.
When I arrived back home in Toronto, it seemed I hadn’t had enough of the Potter magic. I had this urge to hop on a plane and immediately go back, but I would have needed another $300 round trip ticket, $60-a-day car rental, $200-a-night hotel, and a few extra hundreds for spending money. It would have been a whole lot simpler if there was a Harry Potter theme park closer to home…
Which got me to thinking — Canada should get its own Harry Potter theme park.
Why Niagara Falls
There are several cities across the country that would be fitting locations for it, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. However, if I had to choose a location, I would definitely pick Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls is booming right now, thanks to local revitalization efforts that have renewed public interest in the area. In fact, 2017 was ‘one of [its] best years for tourism,’ with as much as 10 per cent more visitations compared to the year prior.
In addition to its already well-established Clifton Hill, indoor waterparks, museums, observatories, casinos and annual Winter light festival which already attract millions of people each year, Niagara Falls is set to get a new Mario Kart-inspired race track this spring, which will garner even more visitations from the surrounding regions. That being said, if there were a Harry Potter theme park at the Falls, it would not only attract its own tourists, but also benefit greatly from the foot traffic of other visitors who are primarily there for the Falls attractions.
Geographically speaking, Niagara Falls has the benefit of being right on the U.S.-Canada border. This makes it central to several largely populated municipalities in both Canada and the United States. The Greater Toronto Area, for example, consists of 6.4 million residents, which is almost half (47 per cent, to be exact) of the entire population of Ontario. As many of these residents live in suburban areas that are only two or so hours from Niagara Falls, day trips or weekend trips by young families are definitely possible.
Similarly, U.S. states close to the border offer a massive market for a Harry Potter theme park. Michigan (9.9 million), Ohio (11.6 million), Pennsylvania (12.8 million) and New York (8.5 million) are all mostly within a nine-hour driving distance from the Niagara Falls border. It’s likely that families in these states who are interested in going to a Harry Potter theme park would choose to visit a Niagara Falls location over the one in Orlando, since it would be closer and the exchange rate is better.
Canada is also home to a massive Harry Potter fan base. Several Harry Potter-themed attractions like Harry Potter bars and specialty stores are already established in Canada, and they’re always a sure-fire hit with fans. In Ontario, the small town of Blythe holds an annual, three-day Harry Potter festival, and last year it attracted over 9,000 people from across the world. In Alberta, a neighbourhood in Calgary experienced a surge in visitations after it transformed one of its streets into Diagon Alley. Needless to say, the interest in a Harry Potter theme park is definitely there, and not just from younger demographics.
Even Walt Disney saw the potential of Niagara Falls — in 1963, he was exploring locations for a second Disneyland after seeing the success of his Anaheim location. Walt was impressed by the beauty of the Falls and the hospitality of its people, however, he ultimately decided not to pursue it because he believed the region's cold winters would thwart his plans for a year-round location.
That’s where a Harry Potter theme park would be different. Authentically, the Wizarding World itself is made up of a lot of indoor places anyway (i.e., Hogwarts, the shops at Diagon Alley, etc.), so the theme park could still be a year-round destination with its indoor attractions. Even some the park’s outdoor places could stay open in the winter — for example, Hogsmeade could turn into a magical Christmas market every December, and the Forbidden Forest could host an epic Halloween festival.
The best possible solution I can think of in terms of a suitable building site would be Marineland. Marineland spans a total of 490 hectares, which is almost four times larger than Canada’s Wonderland (130 hectares). That’s a significant amount of space to work with, considering that Canada’s Wonderland itself is already three and a half times larger than Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
It’s unfortunate, but the sad truth is that Canadians have fallen in love with Marineland over the years. Its controversial practices of capturing sea mammals and keeping them in captivity have severely diminished its reputation, and it could be time for a fresh change. Investors would have to buy out Marineland and get all levels of government involved in the project, but it would be totally worth it in the end.
Would you like a Harry Potter theme park in Niagara Falls? Sign this petition here and we just might be able to make it happen?