PKED caught up with Canada’s Dinosaur Park located in Norwood, Ontario to talk about how they are using the Tourism Resiliency Fund to help their business through recovery from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In 1998 my son Edward Bryont (Bry) Loyst wanted to create a sanctuary for reptiles. The pet trade was growing and people were purchasing reptiles as pets; including snakes, turtles, lizards even crocodilians. As these animals grew many became dangerous or difficult to maintain. Many Animals were abandoned and the Humane Society‘s were not equipped to deal with reptiles. Bry wanted to help abandoned reptiles by creating a safe haven that did not buy or sell animals but provided quality facilities for these animals. So with family help, a property was purchased on Highway #7 between Peterborough and Norwood.
A former 38-acre horse farm following some zoning negotiations became a state-of-the-art building designed specifically for reptiles. It was built and opened to the public in the summer of 1999. Admission fees covered the overhead cost in the beginning but Indian River Reptile was soon inundated with abandoned reptiles. Canada Wildlife started to bring reptiles that were illegally smuggled into the country and could not be returned to their country of origin. Bry expanded the facilities and it became a registered charity, a not-for-profit corporation. It could offer tax receipts for donations but not too many people were interested in donating money to save reptiles. To increase attendance and revenue Bry added a few animatronic dinosaurs and seasonal revenue grew. Outside exhibits were added and to accommodate a very large rescue in 2015 of nearly 100 crocodilians a new building with six geothermal ponds was build on the property with borrowed funds (now repaid). The new Croc-Walk attracted more visitors. Over the years Bry has been recognized as an expert in reptile husbandry and anti-venom. He created the Ontario Antivin Bank in 2010 and has provided life-saving anti-venom to hospitals for emergency use on many occasions.
Finally, after many years of struggling and financial losses, Indian River reptile made a small profit in 2019. During the off-season, they were renting dinosaur to shopping centres and creating walk-through dinosaur exhibits at community centres for March break. On March 11 2020 the world ended for dinosaur events. All of our bookings had to be cancelled even after advertising dollars had been spent.
By May of 2020 things looked bleak. Our working capital was eroding rapidly but heat and hydro still needed to be paid . Animals and staff needed to eat .
Management and our board of director sat down to discuss fund raising tactics and survival plans.
Since the live reptiles had been relying on extinct dinosaurs to generate funds to operate the Indian River reptile the idea emerged to turn our walking dinosaur trail into a drive-through dinosaur Park. Creative,” out of the box “ thinking resulted in a rush to widen our walking paths and move our Dinosaurs along the drive-through trail. A simple internet announcement of ticket sales for a C19 safe no contact dinosaur drive-through to be held at our park on the May holiday weekend brought hundreds of family vehicles. Some never opening their windows, just holding up their phone for our staff to scan the Eventbrite ticket.
Our drive-through dinosaur event was a success and families continue to come all summer long. Initially, no washrooms were allowed but eventually, the gift store was open with social distancing and masks but for the whole summer the reptile walk-through and croc-walk were not open. The dinosaurs saved the day
Our customer reach and demographics have changed dramatically and management does not believe that a dinosaur drive is a flash in the pan. It will be part of our business for a long time. The expansion has started on our roads and TRF funding will help in this endeavour.
Last summer we purchased a large number of Dinosaurs from a bankrupt company in western Canada. These are now on our property and will be installed this spring making us the largest dinosaur park in the country our new brand is “Canada’s Dinosaur Park “ and reptile sanctuary.
We hope to grow into a major tourist attraction for the area. Clearly, we offer a unique experience for locals, cottagers and tourists. As things eventually normalize we will again offer a walk through live reptile exhibits, croc-walk over six ponds teeming with live crocodilian species. A 1.5 km nature trail. Standing Stones mini golf is already a growing attraction and the original dinosaur walking trail will return.
To answer your question.”What’s it like living here “? It’s great. I was born in Norwood and worked in Toronto for 50 years. Our summer home is on Chandos Lake but my son lives here . The Park is his dream and my wife and I are retired with a home in Peterborough and avid volunteers at Indian River Reptile soon to be known as Canada’s Dinosaur Park.
PKED is profiling several tourism-dependent businesses that were successful in receiving Tourism Resiliency Funding to support costs associated with adapting to public health measures and safety reopening, which will support the tourism industry’s recovery in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.