The sweet but unfulfilled dream of a chocolate amusement park

Seven million chocolate lovers can't be wrong, or so the people in St. Stephen, N.B., seemed to think.

Idea hoped to capitalize on N.B. border town's long ties to candy and chocolate manufacturing

In 1987, CBC looks the possibility of building a chocolate-themed amusement park in New Brunswick. 1:41
Seven million chocolate lovers can't be wrong, or so the people in St. Stephen, N.B., seemed to think.

Thirty-one years ago, there was talk of building a chocolate-themed amusement park in the border town, designed to draw in American tourists.

And what better place to build it than at a property on the deliciously-named Chocolate Drive?

Building on a Hershey-like heritage

"The theme of the proposed project is chocolate and the amusement park would cater to the young and old alike," the CBC's Carole MacNeil told Midday viewers in the fall of 1987.
The Ganong family has been making chocolate in New Brunswick since the 19th century. (Midday/CBC Archives)

According to MacNeil's report, the idea had been inspired by the seven million tourists who travelled to Hershey, Penn., each year and collectively spent more than $100 million while visiting.

The town of St. Stephen, as chocolate lovers will know, is also home to Ganong — the family-owned company that has made chocolates and other candy products in New Brunswick for more than a century.

That Hershey-like history and heritage, combined with St. Stephen's proximity to the U.S., made the prospects for such a theme park especially sweet.

'It can happen here'

"It's going to Hershey, Penn., seeing what they've got down there and knowing — not dreaming, knowing — that it can happen here," said St. Stephen Mayor Billy MacCready, when discussing the idea with CBC News.

In 1987, St. Stephen Mayor Billy MacCready talked to CBC News about the possibility of building a chocolate-themed amusement park in the town. (Midday/CBC Archives)

David Ganong, the company's president, told CBC News that if the project were to go forward "we'll have a substantial employment benefit to the community."

When MacNeil's report aired on Midday, St. Stephen had not yet done a study to determine how viable the idea was. 

The concept would continue to be fleshed out, however, including talk of "a giant cherry ride in which people sitting in large cherries would be propelled toward what appears to be an enormous vat of chocolate," according to a report from The Canadian Press, in December of 1988.

A museum, yes. A theme park, no.

Unfortunately, the sweet dream of a theme park — with a price tag that media reports suggested would top $20 million — would not become a reality.

Two workers are seen on the assembly line at the Ganong factory in St. Stephen, N.B., in the 1980s. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Some hoped-for federal funds weren't going to be a possibility as expected. In August 1989, the Toronto Star reported that the people working on the idea in St. Stephen had hoped to get at least $10 million in assistance from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency — but then rules were tightened on funding allocations.

In 1990, the Ganong company would move its operations to a new facility on Chocolate Drive. But no theme park would join it.

By the end of the 1990s, St. Stephen's Chocolate Museum was opened at the site of the old Ganong factory on the waterfront. It came to be after the prior bid for the theme park was "dropped because of insufficient funding," according to New Brunswick's Telegraph-Journal newspaper.

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