May 6, 2016 1:24 pm

Canada’s oldest wooden roller coaster set to open for another season

People ride the Playland Wooden Coaster during a celebration of its 50th birthday in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday June 17, 2008.


It’s been called one of the best wooden roller coasters in the world and is a beacon for coaster enthusiasts everywhere.

The wooden roller coaster at Playland in Vancouver, B.C., is also the oldest roller coaster in Canada.

But maintaining it, to make sure it runs every year, regardless of the weather, is no easy feat.

“We maintain it 365,” said Shawn Joinson, manager of the Tech Services Department at Playland. “We use our operating season to kind of dictate which areas need attention during our off-season.”

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Track and trains are closely inspected

Playland opens this year on May 7, but during the off-season, following Fright Nights in October, is when most of the work is done.

“During our off-season we strip the trains, go through our trains from top to bottom to make sure they are in good, running condition as per the original design,” said Joinson.

“The wheels get taken off, measured, bearings are gone through, seals are gone through, if there’s any damage to any of our fasteners or our wood that makes up the train, we’ll replace them.”

The track is also closely inspected, lubricated and parts are replaced as needed.

Joinson said some areas, because of the weather and the wear, require more attention than others.

“There’s a lot of different components all according to the original manufacturer, that we still follow to this day,” he said.

WATCH: Celebrating International Roller Coaster Day in 1995:

Building the coaster

Playland’s wooden coaster was built in 1958 by the ride construction team, Carl Phare and Walker LeRoy.

It was built for $200,000 and reaches speeds of only 90 km/h. When it opened in 1958, it cost only 40 cents to ride.

“We try to keep with the original drawings,” said Joinson. “One of the challenges is the designer and builder of the ride are no longer alive.”

Joinson knew LeRoy personally and said he used to visit the coaster on occasion.

“He used to come up here from time and time and look at his work and make sure we were doing things properly,” he said.

“We also try to keep the original wood where possible. We do of course inspect the wood on an annual basis as well, and to be honest with you, the wood from 58 years ago is a lot stronger than the wood we’re able to get our hands on now.”

WATCH: The building of Playland’s wooden roller coaster:

Open to the elements

Being open to the changing seasons does present some challenges for the team maintaining the wooden coaster, but Joinson says they constantly check the ride to make sure it’s safe for everyone to ride.

In the winter the wood swells due to the rain and in the summer it shrinks due to the heat, meaning the ride can go slower in winter and faster in summer.

“It’s a gravity-fed ride so after the top hill, it’s all momentum,” said Joinson.

When it’s hot the ride can speed up and cause more side-to-side movement. It’s not necessarily noticeable to the guest, but Joinson said if the ride does not maintain a steady speed it can damage the track over time.

“To help counter the heat, we have, I think, eight strategically placed sprinklers, so once the park closes we actually water the track to help keep it at a proper thickness,” he said.

But the constant maintenance helps ensure the ride can accommodate more than half a million people annually.

“It takes a small crew to complete the work and it takes the majority of the five months of our winter to complete the work,” said Joinson.

WATCH: Taking a ride on Playland’s wooden roller coaster:

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