Why Disney Should Build Its Next Park in Toronto

For decades it’s been accepted wisdom that North America can only support two Disney theme park resorts—Disneyland and Walt Disney World— one on each side of the continent.

I say it’s time for Disney to build a third, and there’s only one place to do it: Toronto.

Considering my whereabouts, it’s an audaciously self-serving suggestion. But there are some solid reasons for Disney to choose Toronto, besides making me one very happy guy.

To give everyone a geography primer, the actual city of Toronto is surrounded by several large municipalities, each with hundreds of thousands of residents. All told, well over eight million Canadians live within a driving distance of a couple of hours or so.

A little research into population data reveals that, counting only the major metro hubs, about 108 million Americans live within nine hours of Toronto—35 per cent of the U.S. population. That number is expected to grow to 141 million by 2050.

When I started writing this article, the U.S. Northeast was going to be my pick. Disney could easily build the park in New Jersey or Upstate New York and have it be quite successful. But Toronto’s location outside of the U.S. is actually a big, counterintuitive plus.

Toronto’s advantage lies in the fact that, as of 2011, only 30% of Americans have passports (required for travel between the U.S. and Canada since 2007), as opposed to 60% of Canadians.

That alone would help prevent cannibalization of WDW in Florida. Since there are more passport holders in border regions, a Toronto park would draw most of its American visitors from nearby states. Passport-holding is also more common among higher income households, which are more likely to take multiple Disney vacations anyways.

The new park would draw a good number of international visitors. The Greater Toronto Area is home to thousands of middle-class families with ties to China and South Asia—places where Disney is trying to extend its reach.

These households often host family members from their respective countries; a Disney resort would become a must-see destination for their guests, along the lines of Niagara Falls.

Any Disney park would have to be built outside the major population centres discussed earlier, which is becoming harder (and more costly) to do. What was rural farmland when I was a kid, is now residential subdivisions with thousands of homes and residents.

There is one elegant solution, though.

Canada’s Wonderland, owned by Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment, remains enormously popular for an amusement park of its kind. Disney should buy and redevelop the property, located 25 minutes from Toronto Pearson International Airport.

At 379 acres (about 300 of which are currently developed), Wonderland is approximately three and a half times larger than the Magic Kingdom and about the size of the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. That’s a lot of space to work with.

Unlike Wonderland, which only operates on a May to October, Disney’s Toronto park would be a year-round destination. The combination of climate change (Toronto winters have sadly been getting warmer and less winter-like with each passing year), and a good number of indoor attractions, would make it possible.

Although there are already a number of hotels in the area—not to mention the countless ones that would spring up—Disney would want to build one of its own. I’d love to see accommodations somehow incorporated inside the park.

With an acquisition of Canada’s Wonderland, Disney would find a sizable customer base on which to build, and be faced with no real competition.

Of course, such a project wouldn’t be cheap. It’s likely that Disney would seek—and receive—support from all levels of government, but they would be wise to steer clear of any arrangement with outside theme park operators.

Concerns over traffic and crowds in the area would be one of the bigger issues, since the park is bounded by a major freeway and residential areas. I suggest Disney preemptively give its immediate neighbors free season passes.

Going back to the attractions, what should the new park offer? A ‘sampler’ of classic Disney rides would be welcome for sure, but the Imagineers will also have to create new experiences, and that for years to come, to keep people—especially locals—coming back.

If snow is still a common winter sight by the time the park opens, perhaps the design team can cook up a way to incorporate it into the landscape in spectacular fashion. That would tie-in nicely with the world of Disney’s upcoming animated adventure Frozen.

A portion of the property should also be set aside for a Downtown Disney-style marketplace, with independent restaurants and shops, anchored by a large Disney Store.

As for what the new place should be called, Disneyland Toronto or Disneyland Canada could work, but, as illustrated in the mockup logo above, I’m partial to Disneyland North.

27 thoughts on “Why Disney Should Build Its Next Park in Toronto”

  1. How about CanaDisney?

    As a fellow GTA-er, I agree that this is a nice dream, but I think the climate issue is probably the most insurmountable one. However, Walt did revolutionize amusement parks when he opened Disneyland and once again with the opening of Disney World. Maybe Toronto is ripe for another, new iteration on a theme park concept that will work despite the weather.

  2. Great article — something I have been talking about for years as well! However, I would go with a name like DisneyNorth or DisneyCanada. There’s already Disneyland and Disney World, so let’s go with something unique :) But hey, regardless of what it would be called, a little bit of Magical Mouse north of the border would be welcome indeed (although I think Disney brass would be concerned about the negative impact this may have on attendance in Orlando to some degree).

  3. There’s a reason most of Disney theme parks in North America are built in the south and that is because it is decently warm year round. Up here in the north, we have maybe 3 or 4 months of good weather until everything starts to get too cold to be outside for long periods of time. I know most people’s ideal vacation involves a nice warm climate. Just my opinion.

  4. I live in the Northern United States. We live in freezing weather for a good portion of the year. The last thing I want is to do is go to a theme park with freezing weather.
    Cedar Point has a operating season from mid May till Labor day which means that it’s closed for a good portion of the year.
    I’m not sure how Canadians around the Toronto area feel about the cold winters, but around here, people rather stay inside than go to a theme park.

  5. Aside from the fact that the weather is unpredictable (a la winter of 2008) it would simply be unwise to buy Wonderland unless facing dire straits. This mostly coming from the way a Cedar Fair park is oriented to the way a Disney park is operated. For example, take a Leviathan or Behemoth-esque ride and compare it to, say Space Mountain. Leviathan is a ride where you experience what is like to go extremely fast through an exhilarating track course, while on the other hand, Space Mountain is an experience attraction, starting at the queue and lasting until the ride ends. This can also portray a large image of what the park is about. As a fellow Torontonian, it is an undeniable fact that everybody who has been to Wonderland knows that the theming is all over the place (it doesn’t make sense). In the end, to bring this park up to a Disney A+ class (sorry for the bad analogy) park would simply be much to costly.

    That being said, I am not trying to say a Disney park in Toronto, or Southern Ontario at least, wouldn’t make money. Based on the statistics of how many families in the Greater Toronto Area alone travel to WDW, I am positively sure that a Disney money would make hordes of money, especially if they put in a decent offering of quality E-Ticketers. An ideal thought would be to win over the teen demographic, which prefers a gargantuan coaster such as Leviathan over some things Disney has to offer. As for location? Well, development of subdivisions continues creeping north, for now seeming to invade the Highway 50 area. Maybe a site like the town of Maple way back in 1981 would be good, possibly located at least between Barrie and Orangeville. An area which is completely unschathed but also offers lots of space. Or even between Toronto and Niagara Falls, considering the location should be accessible to people living in the Northern most corner of New York state.

  6. Love your idea and your article Mike. Some very well thought out points. I personally would love to have Disney represent in Canada and your name choice is excellent! I do fear that our climate would be a major con in the decision making though :-(. But, like the Toronto Zoo Disney could build some attractions both inside and out that would make everyone happy! I personally love visiting the zoo when there is snow in the ground, so why not a Disney park?!!


    1. Both Tokyo Disney Resort and Disneyland Paris operate quite successfully (and look beautiful) through snowy winters, however I don’t think they get quite as cold or quite as much snow as Toronto.

  7. As a Vancouver resident, all I can say is. “No, thank you”

    Sorry Toronto, but with your unpredictably cold winters this simply wouldn’t work. Vancouver would be a better fit. Climate-wise, but it’s only a few hours away from Disneyland, and Toronto is only a few hours away from Disney World, so really what is the point of building a park/resort in either location.

    It’s nice a nice thought if not simply wishful thinking. This isn’t going to happen.

    1. A few hours? Uhm. Toronto is nearly a 24 hour drive from Disney World, and Vancouver is nearly as far from Disney Land.

      If Disney were to consider another park Toronto is a more logical choice, it certainly has the local population (5,583,064 in the GTA and that only considers part of the people within 2-3 hours of it) to support it unlike Vancouver which has a much smaller regional population (2,249,725, less than the core city of Toronto itself). That being said, who says Disney is even considering another park?

      1. Thank you for proving my point.

        24 hour drive to Disneyland from Vancouver or Disney World from Toronto is nothing. Considering the Driving distance between Disneyland and Disney World would take at least 40 hours. If you want to look at it by flight time. A flight from either Vancouver to LA or Toronto to Orlando is less then or around 3 hours. A flight between LA and Orlando is at least 8 hours, not including layover.

        Why would Disney put a park/resort in such a close proximity to one of their other parks. It creates unnecessary competition for itself. And, like I stated previously, the climate or Toronto wouldn’t work. The climate of Vancouver is better. But either one is pointless, as this will never happen,

        additionally, and my prior argument, is climate. In any case, this is a pointless argument, as this will never happen.

  8. Maybe they could start moving Disney World there park by park. Chances are, with rising sea levels, parts of Florida are going to be underwater.

  9. excuse me. but i think a better choice for a third Disney park in the Americas would be someplace in South America — perhaps in Brazil to take advantage of all the sights the country is building for the Olympics in 2016. After all, Walt Disney and his Imagineers did fly to South America and make the movies “Saludos Amigos” and (my favorite) “The Three Caballeros”. Also, the thought of Disney opening a park in the frozen northeast US/Canada area brings back Lion Country Safari nightmares. Lion Country Safari was a very popular animal wildlife park in California and Florida in the 1970s. But when they opened a safari park in Ohio, I think, all the warm weather animals froze to death due to the winter cold, and the company ultimately went into bankrupcy court and never was the same again.

    1. Gotta say, would love one in Australia – but we don’t have the population or the visitors numbers to prop up such a place.

      Would much rather those dollars go to upgrading the existing parks, WDW needs a lot of love.

  10. As a huge Disney fan, I love the idea, but I see a two big things:
    1. Disney already looked at the area North of Toronto before Wonderland was built. They passed on it then, why would they come back?
    2. Wonderland is the highest attended seasonal park in North America; why would Cedar Fair want to give that up?

    Those among points already brought up (climate, current rides, etc) and other things not mentioned (transit infrastructure, space for resort/multiple park expansion)

  11. If Disney wants to try something completely different, I propose :
    Disney’s Winter Wonderland in Quebec city. A park that would entirely be themed around winter, skiing, sliding, and all kinds of winter attractions. We have the climate, the space and the reputation for offering the best in winter sports and attraction. Quebec city isn’t the largest canadian city, but neither was Orlando in 1971.

    That type of park would be different enough from wdw and DL while staying true to the Disney tradition, adding to the cross marketing and supporting the brand.

    Thats my impossible foolish dream!

  12. I have only a few things to say about this proposal: Ain’t gonna happen, and I don’t want it here.

    You know very damn well that Disney only builds parks in places that can be open year round; how would a Disneyland Toronto work? Why not support the park that we’ve all already got, instead of trying to get a park here from a company that didn’t (and couldn’t) build one here in the first place?

  13. several flaws with this idea:

    first I have been to Canada’s Wonderland. While it is nice theme park, it would have to be completely gutted and rebuilt to match the disney look and feel. So much so, that it may be cheaper to build it from scratch… especially since they would not get the current infastructure free. Take into account that quite a bit, if not almost all of the current rides would not fit into the disney story. You have to remember, that every disney attraction isn’t just a ride, it is an experience. That isn’t true at most theme parks. Sure rides are themed, but we are all aware there is a huge difference. Also the story of most disney rides coincides with a disney movie, character, etc. So it becomes easy to see how everything would have to be changed…. at a HUGE expense.

    second, one of the biggest reasons that Walt hated Disneyland, is everyone else built up hotels, restaurants, etc around his little park. He felt like this cheapened the experience he was trying to create. Since then, disney has tried to never let the happen again. Like wise, Disney does not has any precident for buying exsisting parks.

    third, this discussion is somewhat linked to the idea that people keep bringing up about adding a fifth theme park at Disney World. While I would love another park there, it isn’t smart economically. The fantasyland expansion is infinitely a better and far less expensive use of money. There are so many hidden costs of running a them park, especially starting a new one.

    fourth, we were at disney world one year when it got 35° and was really windy. There was no snow, but it was terrible. There is a reason why many theme parks close for the winter.

    Finally, as other have pointed out, geographically, this isn’t the ideal location. The weather being one reason, and the proximity to WDW being a second. In fact, they would be better off giving a substantial discount to Canadians to visit WDW then build a new park.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of another disney park. As a Virginia resident, I have memories of the long abandoned DisneyAmerica project. But for obvious reasons disney builds resorts that are destination locations (that can operate year round)…. not built in every major world populous.

    You have to ask yourself this question: If they were to buy the park and spend all the money it would take to make it worthy of the disney name (lets say that was a billion dollars just for arguments sake)…. What could they do at WDW for the same amount of money? And which would have the greater return on that money?

  14. I think this is a great idea and support this wholeheartedly. Would you please submit this to Toronto City Council as a counter-proposal to a mega-casino?

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