In an integrity commissioner application filed earlier this month, a lobbyist for the Niagara tourist attraction listed sale of the park and zoning changes to allow for development as items he intends to talk to the provincial government about. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Tara Walton
What was only rumour for the last few years appears to be true: Marineland is looking to sell.
On January 10, long-time legal representative for the controversial zoo and amusement park Andrew Burns filed an application with Ontario’s Office of the Integrity Commissioner to lobby the provincial government.
Among Burns’ lobbying goals lists, “Sale of Marineland of Canada Inc.” and “Potential zoning changes to the property to permit development.”
Other goals include, “Potential financial support and tax relief for Park development of its operations. Potential requests for relief from taxation in connection with economic development of the tourism development proposal.”
Marineland was established in 1961 by Slovenian immigrant John Holer, who ran the park until his death in 2018. Talk of the park’s expansive 800-acres opening up for development have circulated since Holer’s passing.
At present, the Niagara Falls site is delineated as ‘Open Space’ and would need to be rezoned to accommodate residential construction.
The park remains privately owned and operated by the Holer family.
Over the years, Marineland has been the subject of several lawsuits and allegations of animal abuse.
In December 2021, Niagara Regional Police charged the park for allegedly using dolphins and whales for entertainment purposes without proper authorization, which was banned under a new law passed by the federal government in 2019. Marineland denied the charge, claiming use of the animals was strictly “educational”.
Just last month, Crown prosecutors stayed the charge – determining it would be against the public interest for the case to continue.
In September last year, Marineland and outspoken former walrus trainer Phil Demers “amicably resolved” a decade-long dispute. Matters were settled without costs, with the park agreeing to relocate its two remaining walruses to an undisclosed location.
Demers, a former employee, started publicly criticizing Marineland’s alleged mistreatment of animals in 2012.
Marineland sued him for several million dollars on claims of trespassing and threats to employees.
Demers then countersued in 2014, citing defamation and abuse of process.
In addition to formal legal issues, over the last few decades Marineland has also been the target of numerous protests and petitions. PETA, Greenpeace, Last Chance for Animals, and several other high-profile activist groups have all gone after the park for purported cruelty to animals.
It’s uncertain how much Marineland will fetch in the case of a successful sale to developers.
In August 2021, Demers claimed the Holer family was asking $300 million for the property.