Crystal Beach, Ontario
Pier that once served the Canadiana and Americana boats. View from Crystal Beach Hill.
|• Total||11.34 km2 (4.38 sq mi)|
|• Density||751.7/km2 (1,947/sq mi)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|Forward sortation area||L0S 1B0|
|Area code(s)||905 / 289 / 365|
Crystal Beach is a community within Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada with a population of 8,524 at the time of the 2016 census. It was named for the "crystal-clear" water conditions present when it was founded on the northeast shore of Lake Erie, across from Buffalo. More recently, however, water quality can be a problem in the area.
Crystal Beach Amusement Park occupied waterfront land within Crystal Beach from 1888 until the park's closure in 1989. The property was once a health spa whose buildings were sited near and on a natural sand dune fifty feet high and 1,200 feet long parallel to the shore. Part of the dune was excavated to open up land for the spa. In 1888, the spa was replaced by the amusement park, which has since itself been replaced by Crystal Beach Tennis and Yacht Club, a gated community. Today Crystal Beach also has some specialty shops, a yoga studio, a spa, restaurants and lakefront nightlife.
This settlement started as a police village with a summer post office in 1898; a year-round post office opened in 1908. The village was incorporated in 1928, with a population of 298. In 1970, the village was absorbed by Fort Erie, Ontario under the regional government scheme.
Crystal Beach Amusement Park
At first, Crystal Beach Park was a religious retreat with a beach and "side-show" attractions started by John E. Rebstock in 1888. By 1890, he had decided to turn it into an amusement park. By then, steamboats shuttled patrons from nearby Buffalo, New York to and from the park. At its peak in the 1940s and early 1950s, the park had about 20,000 visitors daily throughout the summer, from Victoria Day through Labour Day.
Boat service connected Buffalo with the park until 1956. Initially, in the 1890s, a ferry service operated small boats, with a capacity of 500 to 1200. Later, the main passenger vessels used for these journeys were the Canadiana and, until 1929, the Americana, each of which could carry 3,000 passengers per trip. In 1896, the Ontario Southern Railway began to provide connection between the park and the mainline rail station at Ridgeway. This service consisted of a unique elevated monorail style train, and ran for only three summers, through 1898.
The owners made significant investments. For example, in 1909, the "Backety-Back Railway" roller coaster, or "Scenic Railway", was installed for $50,000. and in 1910, another was added, the "Giant", at a cost of $35,000. In the late 1920s, the "Cyclone" coaster was built, at a cost said to have been $176,000. A newspaper report from 1948 indicates that the owners spent $165,000 on two new rides, including a new Comet roller coaster that replaced the Cyclone. In the 1950s, the Lusse "Auto Skooter" bumper cars were added at a cost of $50,000. Although attendance was down by then, a half million dollars was spent after a 1974 fire damaged the dance hall and another $250,000 in 1975 to update some facilities.
By 1983, the park was feeling serious competition from Darien Lake, Marineland of Canada and Canada's Wonderland. Crystal Beach was nearly bankrupt but was saved by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce after going into receivership. New owners took over in 1984 and spent over $2 million during the next three seasons for renovations and improvements including new rides. Financial problems loomed again in 1989 and the park closed due to bankruptcy at the end of that season.
One of the memories that people have of Crystal Beach is the loganberry drink which was sold there. Even though the park is closed, several companies still sell varieties of loganberry drinks, mostly in Southern Ontario and Western New York.
Following the park's closing in 1989, the rides and buildings sold by auction on October 17. The Comet was moved to The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Queensbury, New York where it still operates today. A roller coaster known as the Silver Comet was built at Fantasy Island in nearby Grand Island, New York with a loading platform and signage similar to the original Crystal Beach Comet. The Ferris wheel from the park was sold to Centreville Amusement Park in Toronto, Ontario and remains in operation.
Several books have been written about the history of Crystal Beach Amusement Park:
- Crystal Memories: 101 Years of Fun at Crystal Beach Park - Rose Ann Jankowiak-Hirsch (2004)
- Crystal Beach: The Good Old Days - Erno Rossi (2005)
- Steamers of the Crystal Beach Line - William Kae (2007)
- Crystal Beach Live: Buffalo and Toronto Entertainers and More - William Kae (2009)
- Crystal Beach Park: A Century of Screams - William Kae (2011)
Several documentaries have been produced about the history of Crystal Beach Amusement Park:
- The Life and Times of Crystal Beach - Pacific Productions (1994)
- I Remember Crystal Beach - WEX Studio (1998)
- The Canadiana and Crystal Beach - WEX Studio (1999)
- One Last Ride: Crystal Beach Amusement Park - Last Ride Productions (2000)
- Thanks For The Memories - RDPK Productions (2006)
- Remembering Crystal Beach Park - WNED-TV (2008)
Crystal Beach Hill Cottagers Organization (1983–present)
In the 1930s many amusement park employees were allowed to build cottages on the Crystal Beach sand dune, so that they could live near their jobs. The area was called "Crystal Beach Hill" and eventually grew to 43 cottages. Before the park closed, the residents of "the Hill", fronting on the lakeshore, jointly purchased it and formed the Crystal Beach Hill Cottagers Organization. Crystal Beach Hill is now a family-oriented community, with many cottages owned by second- and third-generation descendants of early residents. "The Hill", the highest vantage point for miles around, offers elevated views of the beach, Lake Erie, and Point Abino, to the West.
Crystal Beach Motel
The Crystal Beach Motel is the only lodging place left from that time. Back then it was called the Crystal Pool Motel, built in the mid '60's by Geza and Maria Banfai, who also built, owned and operated what was then the Lakeside Motel on Terrace Lane. The Lakeside Motel was closed for some years and reopened as an all-suites motel.
There were a few bars in Crystal Beach, keeping its visitors and residents well hydrated. The Palmwood Hotel still stands, despite a fire that all but destroyed it back in the 1960s. Its affiliate basement bar, Circus by the Sea, closed some time ago.
Other hotels in the beach area are long gone. The Park Hotel on Derby Road was destroyed by fire as was Hebert's Hotel on Ridgeway Road and the Imperial which was a two-storey structure with separate beverage rooms for men and women. Teal's Hotel on Erie Road is still open as a pub Sneaker's Beach Tavern. The Ontario Hotel now houses apartments. The Derby Hotel on Queen's Circle is now a Crystal Mart store.
Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club (1992–present)
Land where the amusement park stood was converted into a gated community called Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club in 1992. The pier that at one time served the Canadiana and Americana remains in a state of disrepair, as evidenced by the fenced off area, is currently owned by the Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club development. The canopied section still stands however the end section which has been falling into the waters of Lake Erie was crushed and removed in the winter of 2013-14.
Crystal Beach is still a popular vacation and second-home area. The town of Fort Erie operates a free public beach directly adjacent to and to the west of the Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club and Crystal Beach Hill. West of the public beach are private homes, as well as frontage owned by the Bay Beach Association, which provides beach access for a membership fee. Crystal Beach Waterfront Park is a municipally-owned park with a publicly accessible boat-launch and picnic area immediately east of the Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club.
- "Census Profile". 2016 Census. Statistics Canada.
- Hirsch, Rose Ann. Western New York Amusement Parks.
- Israelson, David (2014-11-05). "Get off the roller coaster in Crystal Beach". Globe and Mail.
- Dubé, Kris (July 11, 2013). "High levels of bacteria at Bernard and Bay beaches". Fort Erie Times/Niagara Advance.
- Rossi, Erno. Crystal Beach: The Good Old Days.
- Hendershott, Len. A Spot On The Lake.
- "Closed Canadian Parks - Crystal Beach Amusement Park". Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada.