Rainbow Valley documentary mixes nostalgia and celebration

Premiere of 45-minute film about Cavendish amusement park leaves few dry eyes in audience

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on September 3, 2014

A crowd of more than 3,000 people gathered recently at a Charlottetown park to watch a documentary film on the late Rainbow Valley.

A mix of nostalgia, celebration and a dusting of bitterness, the recent event left nary a dry eye in the course of the 45-minute showing. The free premiere was presented on the big screen of Confederation Landing Park’s Celebration Zone.

Charlottetown-based filmmakers Patrick Callbeck and Alexis Bulman began this project with a request for funding in July 2013 on the crowd-funding site indiegogo.com. They raised just over their goal of $3,000 by last September while working on the project all last summer and fall.

Through social media, they collected family film footage and photos from people across North America, which they wove through a collection of people speaking about their Rainbow Valley experience.

The audience of all ages watched spellbound, laughing and crying right along with the speakers on the screen.

The amusement park was a icon of Cavendish tourism for years, and a destination for tens of thousands of Island school children for annual end-of-year field trips.

It was home to the flying saucer gift shop, the flume water slide, Mrs. Sleepy Owl who would talk to children, the swinging bridge, swan pedal boats, an aerial monorail and much more.

The film includes long-time staff and creator Helen Smith who recalls organizing the famous closing-day, Labour-Day events like the skydiving marshmallow drop.

There were recollections from a teacher who escorted children through the terrifying witch’s cave, and a family who took their wheelchair-bound father over the swinging bridge for the very last time.

For co-owner and creator Earl Davidson and his family, keeping the entry fee low was their goal of a 37-year career developing Rainbow Valley.

Davidson began with two partners but he and his wife bought them out in 1979 and invested in major upgrades.

With ailing health at the time, Davidson sold the business and it shut down in 2005.

The film Monday shows he has some regret, after recovering his health somewhat. His son, John, also reveals a bit of regret that he just wasn’t ready in 2005 to take over the business.

There is currently no DVD or online release of the documentary because that would eliminate its eligibility for a number of up-coming film festivals.

The DVDs will come after it makes its way though the festival circuit, said the film-makers.

The next public screening will be Sept. 13 in Halifax at the Atlantic Film Festival.

At the gate Monday, friends of the project were selling buttons to assist in the continuing demands to fund the project. The indiegogo budget was for a 15-minute film but the project was so enthusiastically supported that it expanded.

The filmmakers say they need to pay soundtrack artists Adam Gallant and Roger Carter, plus animation artist Laura Stewart.

The film includes recollections from former staff member Hugh Donnelly, who began work there as a teenager.

He recalls that it was place were dads could show daughters how to row a boat, something for all ages.

The film’s Facebook page includes a summary of Donnelly’s comments.

“Rainbow Valley is a place that evoked play, and it allowed adults and children alike to play,” says the paraphrase of his comments.