The City of North Vancouver is finally getting its long-coveted Lower Lonsdale ferris wheel – a.k.a. the “Sky Wheel” – at least for a couple of days this year as part of the annual Shipyards Christmas Festival.
The 16-car Sky Wheel ride will whisk revellers approximately six storeys above the annual festivities Dec. 2-3 at Shipbuilders Square, offering never-before-seen views of the City of Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, and everything in between.
“This is going to sound a bit corny, but it’s going to be magical,” said Greg Holmes, executive director of the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Area. “Think about it: you’re staring down at a massive Christmas tree and a Christmas market on the edge of one of the most beautiful cities on the coast, with the city on your left and the mountains as the backdrop on your right. It doesn’t get more special than that.”
The BIA is sponsoring the Sky Wheel which will be spinning from 4 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2 and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3. The city’s annual Shipyards Christmas Festival, featuring all kinds of family-friendly fun, will run from 4 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 2.
The wheel will be located parallel to the water between Pier 7 restaurant and the Burrard Dry Dock Pier, occupying the strip of pavement that houses many of the food trucks during the weekly Friday Night Markets held during the summer. It’ll be set up and run by West Coast Amusements, a company that has been operating carnival rides across Western Canada for more than 50 years.
The ride will be a typical ferris wheel, although organizers decided to give it a rebranding to Sky Wheel to provide a little distance between this event and previous City of North Vancouver council debates about the prospect of bringing a permanent ferris wheel to the Lower Lonsdale area.
“The word ‘ferris wheel’ is a bit of a polarizing subject for a lot of people down there,” said Holmes with a laugh, adding that Sky Wheel is a pretty apt name considering the views that people will have while taking the ride. “As you’re rising up you’re looking back at the Christmas tree and at the Christmas Festival, the lights of the city, the North Shore, Lonsdale Quay. … Between the water on one side and the mountains on the rest, with a fairly open expanse, it just seemed to be a name that fit really well.”
Whatever they call it, however, the Sky Wheel’s showing at the Christmas Festival will likely be a test run of sorts for the viability of a more permanent ferris wheel in the area. City council’s latest debate about the topic happened in June, with councillors voting unanimously for a plan that aimed to put a ferris wheel at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue for the summer of 2018. Reached this week, Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he hopes the Christmas Festival’s Sky Wheel will help get things spinning for next summer.
“I think this is a good little test run to see how well it’s received,” he said. “Lower Lonsdale is really changing for the better. It’s been teamwork by so many different groups: local businesses, the residents, the city – everybody coming together.”
Mussatto said he couldn’t confirm whether or not a ferris wheel would be coming back to North Vancouver in the summer.
“I don’t know. I hope it is, I really do,” he said. “People think of a ferris wheel as a Disneyland type of thing, it’s not like that at all. It’s quite an enjoyable activity, it brings people down to the waterfront area, it helps support local businesses.”
Holmes agreed that the attraction could do wonders for bringing more people to the Lower Lonsdale area, adding that they’re hoping many will use public transit – the Seabus is right there – to come check out the Sky Wheel during the Christmas Festival.
“It’s like taking a big ad out,” he said about having the wheel spinning on the North Van waterfront. “This is a big promotion for the Shipyards district and the entire commercial area around Lower Lonsdale.”
The BIA is footing the bill for the Sky Wheel, with riders asked to make a $2 donation for each ride. Donations will be split equally between two North Shore charities, Hollyburn Family Services and Foundry North Shore.
The minimum age for the ride will be two, and the minimum height will be 36 inches. Children who are between 36 inches and 48 inches must be accompanied by an adult.
The ride will run no matter the weather. This being North Vancouver in December, operators are fully prepared to face rain or snow, said Homes, adding that he expects riders will be too.
“North Vanners do not get turned off by rainy, cold weather, or they wouldn’t be living on the base of a mountain,” he said.
“We’re pretty hardy folks,” added Mussatto. “You’ve got to make sure you wear warm clothing and come on down. There’ll be covered areas for people to hang out in. I think it’ll be a great fun time. … I’m going to be in line with everyone else. For sure I’m going to be riding that ferris wheel. Oh yeah.”