Way Back WEM: From Fantasyland to Galaxyland and beyond

Whether relegated to the cavernous basement storerooms or dismantled for scrap — many attractions have come and gone over the mammoth mall’s colourful history.

'I like to put on my rose-coloured glasses and look back'

A promotional image for Fantasyland, showing the Fantasyland Express travelling over Fantasy World play area. (WEM)

The Fantasyland Express carried unwitting passengers into haunted tunnels populated by animatronic monsters  which leapt out from every corner.

Children of the 1980s may remember the original iteration of the West Edmonton Mall train ride, but by 1995, Fantasyland was gone and while the train itself survived, many of the Fantasyland attractions were dismantled for scrap or locked away in a cavernous basement storeroom.

Gone too were the remote-control boats on the West Edmonton Mall lake, the zipper ride, the sailboat on the pool deck and the permanent petting zoo. 

Matthew Dutczak is the mastermind behind Best Edmonton Mall, a website and YouTube series dedicated to the weird and wonderful history of WEM. (CBC)

Matthew Dutczak is still nostalgic for the old days. He much prefers the bygone Fantasyland era.

"I like to put on my rose-coloured glasses and look back to the days before when it was Fantasyland," Dutczak said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"All the facade and the siding of the park was old-timey buildings, and it felt like you were back in the early 1900s.

"It was just a different feel back then."

'I've seen the changes'

Dutczak, the mastermind behind Best Edmonton Mall, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to the attraction, has been investigating some of the mall's lost attractions.

His obsession — and extensive research — serves as the backbone for a Way Back WEM, a weekly Edmonton AM radio series on the shopping centre.

"I was born in 1984 and I've been coming here since then," said Dutczak, 34. "I know I was even here as a baby so I've seen the changes."

"This space used to be a heck of a lot different back in 1983, when the park first opened, it was Fantasyland," Dutczak said. "And when most people think Fantasyland, they think Disneyland, and so did Disney."

The name Fantasyland was already in use at Disneyland and the Walt Disney Company took exception.

WEM lost a protracted court battle and was forced to change the park's name. It instead adopted a space-age theme, changing its name to Galaxyland.

The monsters on the newly-named Galaxyland Express were replaced with a few friendly neon-faced aliens. The old western-style facades and mountain range murals were replaced with purple-hued moonscapes.

Since then the lake which used to offer boat rides has been drained and retrofitted into a series of party rental rooms.

"You used to be able to drive little remote-control boats around," Dutczak said. "However, rumour has it, where the water used to be, it used to leak down and cause damage to the movie theatre which was directly below."

'Mixed like a martini'

Dutczak said his favourite ride, the Drop of Doom, also disappeared. 

As its successor, the Space Shot, still is today, the drop ride was the world's tallest indoor tower ride.

A promotional image for the Daring Drop of Doom. (West Edmonton Mall)

Before it was dismantled, the Drop of Doom would lift four riders to a height of around 120 feet, and hold them steady for several agonizing seconds. Then, suddenly, at the sound of loud buzzer, the riders would free-fall to the ground.

"The old one, you'd go up slowly and the suspense would kill you. You would go up and and wait and almost have a heart attack. It would be over very quickly," Dutczak said.

"This new one is certainly more extreme. It'll shoot you up and shoot you down. You're getting mixed like a martini."

From the archives: Fantasyland name hits legal wall in Edmonton

5 years ago
Duration 1:02
On March 11, 1994, an appeal court ruled that West Edmonton Mall can no longer use the Fantasyland name for its amusement park.

One attraction in particular Dutczak does not miss is the UFO maze, in which customers tried to find the chart path through a labyrinth of steel-panel walls.

The pathways were not changed regularly, Dutczak said.

"It was a lacklustre experience, to be honest."

The maze remained open until 2005 when it was dismantled to make room for the final twist in the mall's newest roller coaster, the Galaxy Orbiter.


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