Marineland Canada Inc. is a theme park located on Marineland Parkway (part of Portage Road) between the greater Niagara Falls area and the village of Chippawa. In the 1930s the site was the location of Dominion Insulation Company, which became Ohio Brass Company before moving to Thorold Stone Road. During World War Two a prisoner of war camp occupied the site, followed by the Ontario Provincial Police Fourth District Headquarters in the 1950s. By the 1960s two theme parks shared the location: the Indian Village operated by the Ruta family and Marine Wonderland. In 1968 the Indian Village closed and Marine Wonderland purchased the land and began expansion. Two buildings remain in use by Marineland Canada Inc. in the 2010s from Dominion Insulation Company.
Ivan Holerjem was born in 1935 in Maribor, Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia). He studied and worked in wineries, as was the family tradition, before the effects of the Second World War disrupted the industry. More rewarding work was found at Circus Krona, reminiscent of Ivan’s childhood interest in keeping small animals like squirrels and rabbits. Here he learned to train bears and sea lions. Exploring places to relocate to, Ivan’s research led him to choose the Niagara region of Canada, where he arrived in the 1950s, changing his name to John Holer. John attempted to find work at Brights Winery in Niagara before becoming interested in the local tourism industry. John used his background in circus work to create an attraction that would rival the great waterfalls of Niagara. Holer and a business partner purchased one acre of land on Portage Road from Harry Oakes to develop a theme park meant to provide a secondary activity for visitors coming to see Niagara Falls. The park first opened in 1961 as “Marine Wonderland”. As the park grew, it underwent name changes to become known as “Marineland and Game Farm” and finally “Marineland Canada Inc.” The park, originally providing interaction with animals by allowing the public to feed them, came to include popular aquarium theatre shows in which female staff prompted animals to perform, as well as shops, an arcade and rides. Additional land purchases increased holdings up to 1000 acres, and development of displays facilitated accommodation of hundreds of land and marine animals by the 2010s.
There are many artefacts in the museum collections which are connected to Marineland.
Learn more about one of Marineland’s performers in the History Note “Jeff the Seal at Marineland”