Hump Day: Fond memories of the giant flying hamster wheel

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

While I’ve become a bit of a non-traveller over the years, I do remember fun summer vacations with my family when I was younger. Despite all the rain we’ve been having lately, I can’t help but think back to fun times with the family all those years ago.

Every summer, we used to visit my grandparents on P.E.I.

As much as I love the convenience of the Confederation Bridge, the ferries were always fun. I kind of miss them. Everything had to be timed just right! We’d call to find out when the crossings were and tried to time our departure correctly. If we met a line of traffic coming off the ferry between Port Elgin and Cape Tormentine, that was the cue to step on the gas and speed like a demon on fire to catch the boat!

More often than not, speeding proved to be futile, since there were lineups for the ferries during the summer and we’d have to bide our time in the terminal playing video games and eating french fries before that famous familiar musical “bing boing boing boing” tune played through the speakers to tell us to return to our vehicles and line up for the ferry. The announcer was usually a voice we recognized from CKCW Radio.

During the busiest times in the summer, the ferries just loaded and left throughout the day. No need to keep to the schedule when every crossing was full. Night-time crossings were always fun. The cool wind. The dark water brightened by the lights from the car decks and the white waves. And the lights from the houses on either side of the Northumberland Strait made everything look so close.

There are few places around that are as fun for kids as P.E.I. in the summer. The go-karts at Bonshaw 500 were a favourite stop, especially thrilling as a youngster way too young to drive.

Not far from Bonshaw was a place called Fairyland. That was a great place! There was lots of stuff to keep kids occupied, including a miniature train ride through the woods where various scenes from fairytales were displayed. It was kind of magical, really.

The best part of Fairyland was an incredibly dangerous rotating wooden tunnel in the playground. A bunch of kids would get in the tunnel and then make it spin by running – kind of like a giant hamster wheel. Eventually, one kid would fall and end up flying around (or out of) the wheel. Lots of bruises and crying. Good times! Every year, there was always a story about some kid who died the previous summer. Ah, urban legends!

Of course, these days that ride would be banned from any self-respecting amusement park that had any interest in keeping its insurance rates even somewhat affordable. Back then, though, the people who ran the park thought it was a good idea. It was loads of fun – but looking back, it was thoroughly dangerous contraption that had no business being there. Didn’t stop us from running to it upon arrival, though!

My grandparents lived not far from Cavendish, so a visit or two to the beach there was mandatory during the summer. I remember the white sand being impossibly hot on my feet. I also liked the fact that I couldn’t see land across the Gulf of St. Lawrence no matter how hard I squinted. The scalding hot sand is what I remember most, though.

If we were lucky, we got to go to the wax museum in Cavendish on a rainy day. Each time we’d go, we’d say, “Never again,” but we’d end up there again a few years later. It was something to do when it rained!

And there was Rainbow Valley, of course. That was a great place! We visited the flying saucer gift shop and rode the paddle boats and canoes. I really liked it there. It’s a real sin that it isn’t around anymore. So many happy memories.

Visiting our grandparents also meant mandatory attendance at church. I remember whining out loud to my mother one day, “Why do we have to go to church? We never go to church when we’re home!” Apparently, that was news to my church-going grandmother, who wasn’t impressed at the new discovery that her grandchildren spent their Sunday mornings likely worshipping Satan rather than attending mass.

In the summer, we tended to skip Sunday mass at St. Ann’s Church near my grandparents’ house to attend Saturday evening mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Cavendish. It was a small church that was only open in the summer. I remember that the priest was a funny little man who made us laugh, although not necessarily on purpose.

When he prepared communion, he would hold the host right up to the highly sensitive microphone and break it. It sounded like a thunderclap. Then, he would put it in his mouth and eat it. Again, the volume in the microphone on the altar was turned way up and the amazingly loud crunching sound that he made always caused us to burst out giggling. Thankfully, we always sat in back of the church.

We also used to visit Woodleigh Replicas near Kensington. This was a fun place for kids, too, and featured miniature replicas of British castles. The realistic dungeon – complete with skeleton, was especially interesting – even a bit scary! The gift shop was a favourite place, too, because of all the unique British treats found there.

Whether you take your kids to P.E.I. or stick around New Brunswick this summer, create some memories for your family – even if it’s day trip. Your kids will always remember it.

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