Time Travel in RiverSouth
Fun Facts and Secret Stories From the Land of Big Fun
There’s a lot you might not know about these four RiverSouth attractions. Read on for fun facts including the celebrities who performed and worked at these venues, how they were named, when they opened, and what the land was before becoming well-known establishments.
The track first opened on June 26, 1985 under the name Canterbury Downs, which was chosen from more than 57,000 entries in a “Name The Track” contest. A crowd of 15,079 was joined by Governor Perpich to celebrate the first day of pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota. English-bred Faiz, fittingly sired by Canterbury Road, won the first race! Canterbury was one of the last great racetracks built, costing more than $80 million to construct. Despite early success, the track was forced to close in 1991. When it re-opened three years later, it took its current name Canterbury Park.
Since 1985, Canterbury Park has been home to legendary performances, races, personalities and events. The horse Unbridled, winner of the 1990 Kentucky Derby, raced at Canterbury in the 1989 Canterbury Juvenile finishing second. Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey, seen often on the Food Network, was Canterbury’s track photographer in the ’90s and often cooked five-star meals for the riders. The late Dark Starr, KFAN’s Paul Allen and FSN’s Kevin Gorg all have made a name at Canterbury Park. And one of the state’s most famous election-day celebrations occurred at Canterbury Park on November 3, 1998, when Jesse Ventura gave his “We wasted them with our votes” gubernatorial victory speech. Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jay Z, Beyoncé, and Keith Urban have all performed at Canterbury Park and Michael Jordan even once won a poker tournament there!
Canterbury Park has truly lived up to its original 1985 marketing tagline: “History in the Running.”
Now home to one of the largest gaming floors east of Vegas, a little more than twenty years ago the resort that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year had not yet been built. Gaming at Mystic Lake started small, with the opening of Little Six Bingo on Oct. 16, 1982. In May of 1992, Mystic Lake Casino opened just down the street to record crowds. Mystic Lake expanded in September of 1993, doubling its gaming space and adding new dining options. The first of three luxury hotel towers opened in July of 1996. Today Mystic Lake is home to a 150,000-square-foot gaming floor with nearly 4,000 slot machines and 100 blackjack tables—plus a luxurious state-of-the-art bingo hall. Not to mention ten bars and restaurants, a spa, indoor pool and the Mystic Showroom. And Little Six Casino, formerly Little Six Bingo, is still right across the street.
The 2,100-seat Mystic Showroom at Mystic Lake opened in September 2007 with a sold-out concert by country star Alan Jackson. In the last eight years this venue has seen its share of amazing shows in just about every genre. Megawatt stars like John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Marilyn Manson, Maroon 5, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gladys Knight, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson have all graced the stage. Touring Broadway musical Rock of Ages brought the ’80s to life and The Price is Right Live! had audiences running and screaming through the aisles to “Come on down!” Keep an eye on Mystic Lake’s entertainment calendar—you never know who might be coming to town next!
2016 will mark the 40th anniversary of Valleyfair! Like so many other great ideas, the idea for the upper Midwest’s largest amusement park involved a corner booth and a few pints at a local pub. After more than five years of design, planning and construction, Walt Wittmer and Dave Sherman eventually opened the park in May of 1976. The two Twin Cities businessmen were also responsible for the construction in the IDS Center in Minneapolis. Cedar Point Amusement Park, based in Sandusky, Ohio acquired Valleyfair in 1978 forming what is now Cedar Fair Limited Partnership.
Early notable park attractions included the High Roller, which served as the backdrop to the park’s turn-of-the-century design. The coaster is still a favorite among guests today. Contrary to what most people believe, the High Roller did not come from Excelsior Amusement Park. However, the 48-horse 1920s Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel that stands just inside the entrance did come from Excelsior Amusement Park. Valleyfair was also home to a popular dolphin show featuring two bottlenose dolphins named Skipper and Dolly during the 1980s.
Valleyfair drew one of its largest attendance days during an in-park performance from Weird Al Yankovic in July of 1984. Other celebrity guests over the years include Erik Estrada, John Denver and Neil Patrick Harris. Scenes from the motion picture Little Big League were also filmed at Valleyfair.
The Minnesota Renaissance Festival began its journey in September of 1971 on a 22-acre field in Jonathan, Minnesota. More than 25,000 people visited the two-weekend grand opening of the festival then named “A Celebration of Nature, Art, and Life!” That celebration has since relocated to Shakopee, Minnesota and has grown to be the largest renaissance festival in the United States.
Entertainment at the Festival has been the starting point for many nationally known performers. Penn Jillette and Teller performed their first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on August 19, 1975. The group disbanded in 1981 after their third member Wier Chrisimer quit show business, leaving Penn Jillette and Teller to work together as a pair, forming the beloved Penn & Teller duo we know today.
In 1996, one of Jason Mraz’s college friends persuaded him to hang out in Shakopee one summer and perform at the Renaissance Festival. Mraz remembered his time at the Festival by saying, “One of my friends was a veteran pickle boy; he’d probably done it a dozen years. He walked me right in, got me the gig and I learned from the best,” said Mraz. Jason explained how much he enjoyed the Renaissance Festival by saying, “It was a blast. It was extraordinary, such an immersive experience. You really get to go to a different time.”
History is a chronicle of the past, but the experience is what stays with you for a lifetime. Create your own experiences at RiverSouth and as things change, remember the times when memories were made!