Public feedback wanted on Bowmanville Zoo re-development


Published April 10, 2024 at 6:13 pm

Bowmanville Zoo
Bowmanville Zoo in happier times

A plan at least a half-dozen years in the making to turn the former Bowmanville Zoo into a “signature” municipal park is slowly taking shape, with public feedback wanted on a proposed design for the 34-acre property.

The Municipality of Clarington is calling on the community to help create an “inspiring vision” for a park that “honours the natural and cultural heritage of this beloved property.”

“The zoo lands hold a special place in all of our hearts here in Clarington,” said Mayor Adrian Foster. “We have a unique opportunity to create an incredible public space here. We are working with the community to refine the design vision for this park. Thanks to our partners at Valleys 2000, Clarington Council is excited to move forward in creating a park that will honour the history of the lands, protect the natural environment, expand Bowmanville’s trail system, and create new cultural and community spaces for everyone to enjoy.”

During public consultations for the Parks, Culture and Recreation Master Plan, municipal staff and Council heard from residents about their priorities for the zoo lands, with this phase of consultation representing a third round of public input into the project. Local community organization Valleys 2000 got the ball rolling when they hired a design firm to create an initial plan, which was presented to Council last spring.

The abandoned Bowmanville zoo in 2018, two years after it closed. Photo by Freaktography

Valleys 2000 President Ron Strike said his group is “keen” to work with the municipality on the project. “As we are well into the design process for this exciting park opportunity, Valleys 2000 looks forward to the community’s response to the proposal.”

The Bowmanville Zoo was created in 1919 and by the time it closed in 2016 – amid charges of animal cruelty – it was the oldest private zoo in North America.

The Zoo became a major supplier of animals for the Hollywood film industry after Michael Hackenberger took over in 1988, with elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys and camels among the zoo residents who appeared in movies like Life of Pi, The Ghost and the Darkness and the Oshawa-filmed Billy Madison.

Zoo elephants were also regular participants in local events, such as the Bowmanville Santa Claus Parade.

The zoo closed after a “catastrophic” decline in visitors following a string of animal abuse charges laid against Hackenberger in 2016, just three years shy of the zoo’s centennial.

Now Clarington is hoping the historic property can return to its cruelty-free position of prominence in the community, with residents invited to visit to review the current design vision, join the conversation and share feedback about design features using an interactive mapping tool.

The circus-style acts that landed the zoo in hot water with the SPCA

“A unique and historical space deserves a unique – even audacious – plan,” said Ward 2 Councillor Lloyd Rang, who is helping lead the planning process. “Thanks to Valleys 2000 and municipal staff for bringing members of the community together to help develop this proposal for a signature park in the heart of Bowmanville. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance here to create Clarington’s own version of New York City’s Central Park – a space that includes natural features and cultural attractions we don’t have anywhere else in Clarington. I encourage everyone to continue to weigh in and dream big.”

There will also be two in-person Public Information Centres in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Administrative Centre in Bowmanville:

  • Tuesday, April 16, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Learn more, share your feedback and subscribe to project updates at


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