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Dino-mite theme park

By Robyn Chambers

Thirty years ago it was a farmer's field; 20 years ago it was Flintstone Bedrock City and more than 10 years ago the business that successfully mastered the art of evolution through necessity and savvy entrepreneurship became Dinotown Jurassic Theme Park-all in the family through three decades and still going strong.

Since its opening on June 18, 1975 the Ell family has played host to an estimated 2.5 million visitors.

But it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing.

Initially the Ells-the father a commercial artist-wanted to buy into the Flintstone Park in Kelowna, however, it wasn't to be.

Undeterred the family decided to start their own park. Licensing requirements created to protect the commercial viability of Flintstone theme parks across the continent stipulated any similar park had to be located beyond a 100 mile radius of its closest neighbour.

What was also critical was finding a land base of 20 acres with highway access. This was complicated by the fact that there was a land freeze on at the time.

"That was how we ended up here," son Rob Ell said.

In those days Flintstones shared its space with a gas station in the stretch now called the Bridal Falls Recreation Area. The Ell family park was one of only four in the world.

Throughout the 80s and 90s the licensing for any intellectual properties of Hanna Barbara changed hands numerous times before they ended up in the possession of Time Warner. In 1994 the park's licence was revoked and Fred, Barney, Wilma and Bambam had to go.

"We had to change everything," Ell said.

"They said they owned the modern stone age and we couldn't do cavemen. We couldn't go into the future like the Jetsons, so we had to figure out who came before cavemen and they were dinosaurs."

And so the concept for the present-day park was born.

Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, numerous story boards, and countless weeks of creative brainstorming to develop each character's personality and physical attributes later, the Ells were ready to invite everyone back and introduce them to the new family of Dusty, Dina, Dee Dee, Dexter, Flapper, Creaky, Grama and Baby Bones.

"We started with a blank piece of paper and drew thousands," Ell said of the work that went into the physical creation of the characters.

It was a calculated success.

"The first day people started to love them," he said.

These days Dinotown remains the only North American cartoon dinosaur town. It's an unprecedented success as the characters have taken Dinotown's show on the road to the Pacific National Exhibition, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, to the NBC Studios in New York City, and the Museum of Natural History.

Although Ell's mom owns the park, his kids-the third generation of Ells, Kelsey, 12, and Zac, 9- are now starting to learn the ropes.

They are fond of the fries and the ice cream at Dinotown, but it's more than that.

"The magic is learning to create magic every day," Ell said. "There is a real science to it."

Being successful in the entertainment business means not standing still. Ell doesn't plan on resting on his laurels.

There are plans to build a new parade next year and bring in new pedal cars.

"What is next, you always have to be thinking."

These days the memories-challenges and all-of the past 30 years are captured for visitors' enjoyment in a recently created memory room.

"All things evolve over 30 years. Everything was new at one time," Ell said.

posted on 07/26/2005

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