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Fantasy Garden World
Castle Entrance Gate
This was an 8.5-hectare park built at the edge of a large motion picture set that was located on Number 5 Road at the intersection of Steveston Highway. The set consisted of medieval-style stone structures (including a castle) with botanical gardens behind. It's not known if these gardens were built at the same time as the set nor if the "8.5-hectare" figure included the set. Interestingly, this was the site of the first community garden in Richmond, so it may be the gardens that were first next to the set.
Bill Vander Zalm purchased the gardens in 1984 for $1.7 million with the idea of making a Christian theme park called "Fantasy Garden World". This came to include an Oriental garden, a rose garden with a gazebo and teahouse, and the Glass Conservatory which was done in a yester-year theme. The latter housed tropical plants, so presumably it was heated to an equatorial temperature. Housed in the Conservatory was a restaurant that specifically advertised Sunday brunch. In addition, the gardens had various biblical statues, a hedge trimmed to look like a bible and ponds with at least one crossed by a bridge. The castle came to house a gift shop.
Also on site were a tower with a bell carillon, an Olde World Village and a windmill. Vander Zalm added some attractions such as a petting zoo, mini golf, and pony rides. The only amusement ride found so far in research is a miniature railway that ferried patrons around the gardens.
A farmers' market was there which fit well with the nature theme of the park. Offered too, was catering for various functions such as weddings and conventions. During the Christmas season special lighting consisted of over 75,000 lights.
Eventually Vander Zalm sold the gardens in 1990 to Taiwan's Tan Yu group for approximately $16 million. Because he was a politician (mayor, a Member of the Legislative Assembly and then provincial premier), allegations of conflict of interest arose when it was learned that Tan Yu was in discussion with his government to open a bank in the province. There were also the issues of granting a liquor license at the park and one regarding non payment of provincial tax, but the latter may not have happened until after the sale to the new owners, making it their responsibility. Vander Zalm resigned in 1991 and his party lost the next election. Later, the British Columbia Supreme Court found him not guilty, acquitting him of all charges.
The park was run by Tan Yu for only a short time, but the exact closing year has not turned up yet. It and the surrounding set continued to be used for movies but also for television and music videos, as well. Some of the productions filmed there were "Halloweentown II", and television episodes of "Highlander", "Stargate Atlantis", "Stargate SG-1", "Supernatural" and "X-Files".
After Tan Yu closed the park, it lay idle for many years (except for film and television productions such as those mentioned above), and the buildings fell into a dilapidated condition. As well, the park was vandalised and stripped of anything of value or interest. Some things remained though: some barns, the bell tower, a circular garden with a hedge, several ponds and retaining walls, and many pathways through 800 fully developed trees. (These trees were said to be worth over $2 million.)
At some point a horticulture business was located in Fantasy Gardens. It was part of the Art Knapp Nursery franchise. When this opened, the park may have seen the name change officially to "Fantasy Gardens". It's unclear though, if the amusements were still there at that time or not.
Regardless, during the 1990s, the amusements were taken out or left to decay. Townline Homes purchased the Gardens site in 2008 with a eye toward making a housing development but preserving over four hectares of the former garden as a recreational area. The latter is to be owned and run by the City of Richmond. One name for it is "The Gardens Agricultural Park", but it is unconfirmed at this time if this name is being used. Townline is using "The Gardens" for the residential neighbourhood.
Likely at this point, the Nursery moved out, if not earlier. It is now located at a new location not far away. Most of the park and set were demolished except for the castle and some other parts that could be salvaged such as the walkways and ponds, the bell tower, bible planter, and an old barn. Distinct areas are planned, each with its own theme. They will be:
- The Celebration Garden
- The Contemplative Secret Garden
- The Country Lane
- The Display and Play Gardens
- The Farm Gardens
Composting facilities and a greenhouse are to be attached to the barn; a caretaker's suite will be nearby. Public washrooms will also be placed near the barn. Restorations will be carried out on existing structures and additional pathways and bridges are expected to be added to the park. Plaques throughout will explain how the old is incorporated with the new.
Because the castle was designed to resemble Netherlands' Coevorden Castle which was the home of Captain George Vancouver's family, it had historical significance to British Columbia. The castle had already been donated to the City of Vancouver for Expo 86, so by the time the park closed, this structure was already in public hands and will be restored. Plans are that it will house a daycare centre.
|The windmill photo was taken by Mark Ruthenberg.|
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