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(TONY FOUHSE 2009/Tony Fouhse)
(TONY FOUHSE 2009/Tony Fouhse)

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Introducing the biggest outdoor water park in Canada Add to ...











Perhaps the most important technological investment at Calypso is its point-of-sale system, which uses a swimmer's fingerprint to process transactions. When patrons arrive at the front desk, they leave behind their fingerprint impression and credit card number, and simply point at whatever they want to buy throughout the day. Drouin's company developed its POS system with the help of Quebec-based Softicket. Disney uses a fingerprint scanner that prevents guests from sharing their tickets, but only a few other parks have the technology. It's all about getting consumers to spend on discretionary items without having to reach into their pockets - a real challenge when the majority of people are wearing bikinis or swim trunks.

Drouin may be a visionary, but his introduction to the region was nothing short of a disaster. After convincing local officials that the water park - and its 500 jobs - would be a good fit with the community, he gave the facility a name that didn't translate well into French. In this predominantly French-speaking area of Ontario, where people's identity is wrapped up in their linguistic heritage, Drouin made the mistake of naming his park Sunnyland.

Residents took this as an insult, a sign that Drouin cared more about the town's proximity to major arterial routes than its people. The uproar - well, the mumbling - forced him to issue an apologetic press release expressing his desire to see the project "unfold in harmony with the local community."

"We became aware of the comments concerning the linguistic concerns of the region's residents on the choice of Sunnyland and we decided to change it to a bilingual name," he said in the release. "We feel confident this change will help make Calypso park a source of pride for the residents."

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While the naming misstep was easily addressed, the locals initially had concerns about "the coming of Calypso" that weren't so easy to fix. They were ambivalent about its presence in their midst, wondering if they really wanted the influx of visitors and traffic problems.

As for the many trees that were removed from the land that Drouin purchased from the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, "we were able to keep that from becoming a distraction by recycling all the wood," says Sylvain Lauzon, Calypso's executive vice-president, who was hired two years ago to manage the development. "It's used in the bridges around the park, and we also planted hundreds of new trees to recreate some of the green space."

Local concerns appeared to evaporate as the park edged closer to completion, and thousands of spectators flocked to the preview days last fall. When an exit sign was posted on the highway, it seemed to spark a realization that the project was happening-whether they liked it or not.

The county's preliminary study forecasting economic spinoffs of about $750 million over 10 years was met with widespread cynicism in the local press, but there are some small signs that the park may act as a catalyst for growth. Limoges now has its own tourist information centre, and thousands of new homes are set to be built around town. And while local politicians aren't convinced the park is responsible for the sudden explosion of construction, there's nevertheless a boomtown feeling in the air.

"Is this park a good idea? I wouldn't do this if I did not think so, and I've been doing this a very long time," says Drouin. "We are close to Ottawa, which has nothing like this. We are close to Montreal. There is nothing else like this anywhere around."

He won't know if the business model is a success for several years, he says - long-term feasibility can't be gauged in one season. Nor will he talk about his target for season's passes, although he's clearly comfortable with the 6,000 of them he has already sold. "We have now sold the type of number that makes it much easier to sleep at night," he says. "Now we wait for the sun, and hope for the best."





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