Life / Travel

Two by two: Developer wants biblical theme park with Noah's ark in Saskatchewan

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — A Chinese businessman wants to build a biblical theme park in southern Saskatchewan with a massive replica of Noah's ark complete with animal reproductions and a digital experience of the life of Jesus.

The yet-to-be-named park, which still needs some government approvals, would be next to a private cemetery south of Moose Jaw.

"I'm getting lots of people saying, 'You're putting an amusement park on your cemetery?' Well, it's nothing of the sort," said Marc L'Hoir, manager of Sunset Cemetery, who is working on a plan with the developer.

"It's going to be an educational process where people can come and learn about loving one another. And we need more of that in the world."

L'Hoir said the owner of the cemetery and the adjoining land is friends with Sun Wenquing, who has already built a Bible-themed park in China.

Sun converted to Christianity from Buddhism in 2009 and has dedicated himself to the religion, said L'Hoir.

"This is part of his legacy he wants to leave behind, that he wants to spread that word."

Sun told the China Christian Daily last year that it's his dream to build an ark of the same size referenced in the Bible, which says Noah is warned about a great flood, builds a boat and loads it with two of each animal.

L'Hoir said the Saskatchewan replica would be three-storeys high, 23 metres wide and 135 metres long — nearly the length of a CFL football field. It would also contain a children's playground.

He said workers from China would be brought in to build the park over four years at a cost of about $1.2 million. The China Christian Daily lists the cost at $40 million.

A tabernacle for worship has already been built in China and shipped to the Saskatchewan site for use in the park, said L'Hoir, who added he's confident the project will be approved and construction of the ark can begin soon.

Mike Wirges, administrator of the Rural Municipality of Moose Jaw, said council approved the development earlier this week of a "passive park" with a walking path, statues and murals.

News that a giant ark was part of the plan came as a shock.

"Those plans were never presented to our municipality," he said. "Had we known that there was certainly more to it, rest assured, we certainly would have done a little more investigation, hearings."

Wirges said the ark will need further approvals from the rural municipality as well as the province, since it will be next to a highway. Because the spot is also close to an air-force base, there will also be height restrictions and approval may be needed from Nav Canada.

Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw is home to the military's pilot training school and the Snowbirds air demonstration team.

Moose Jaw's other main tourist attractions include a mineral spa resort and underground boot-legging tunnels allegedly used at one time by American mobster Al Capone.

L'Hoir believes the ark will outdo them all, drawing tourists from around the globe and rivalling other religious destinations such as Vatican City in Rome and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

It may also entice more people to choose Sunset Cemetery as their final resting place, he suggested.

But it won't be the world's first giant ark park.

Ark Encounter, a seven-storey boat with a nearby creationist museum, opened earlier this year in Kentucky at a reported cost of US$100 million. Noah's Ark Hotel and Resort opened in Hong Kong in 2009.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton