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After thousands of hours of restoration work, a historic carousel is open for rides at the Valley Zoo

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After thousands of hours of restoration work, the Edmonton Valley Zoo’s historic carousel is once again ready to delight children. The 1959 Herschell Spillman carousel, now dubbed the Conservation Carousel, is open for business.

“We’re celebrating the grand opening of the children’s carousel. It’s been completely re-worked from the ground up,” said Tammy Wiebe, executive director of the Valley Zoo Development Society.

The carousel is one of only two original 1959 Herschell Spillman carousels remaining in operation in the world; the other is located at the Herschell museum in New York state.

For decades it was located outdoors in a central location in the zoo, giving rides to thousands of children.

1959 Herschell Spillman carousel at the Storyland Valley Zoo.

“This carousel has been outdoors here at the Edmonton Valley Zoo since 1959, taken apart most winters by the staff here, put away and rebuilt,” Wiebe said.

“Carousels like this were travelling carousels and were only intended to last 10 to 15 years,” said Doug Warren, the head carver on the restoration project.

“This one being outside for 60 years had degraded quite a bit due to the elements.”

Since 2017, volunteer carvers at Fort Edmonton Park have been refurbishing the carousel, but it wasn't a simple task.

“There was no manual, no guides on how to replace them so the fort carvers and volunteers and companies that helped them basically rebuilt every single piece of it,” said Wiebe.

“Tens of thousands of volunteer hours in visualizing, drawing, carving, painting, sanding the animals. And then the decks and machining parts, ordering brass from the U.K., because it’s the only place that makes that spiralized brass, and putting it all back together, including all the electrical and all the machine parts.”

Wiebe says all of the pieces that could be replaced were, to honour the history of the carousel.

Wood carving created for the historic carousel at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

The original aluminium horses have been replaced with 20 hand carved wooden animals, which represent endangered animals and animals that live at the zoo.

There are also two wooden bench seats including one that can be removed for wheelchairs, 52 decorative panels, and five spare animals that can be changed out for maintenance and variety.

“Because we do anticipate that there’ll be nicks and chips and maybe a broken leg at some point,” Warren said.

The carousel has also been fitted with hardwood decking, a new electrical system, new lighting, a sound and PA system, and an updated drive system.

"It’s very different and I would say that it is a work of art,” Wiebe said.

The original horses have been restored and will be displayed alongside the carousel.

The Conservation Carousel building at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. (Amanda Anderson/CTV News Edmonton)

The carousel is currently located in a temporary climate-controlled building near the top of the Wander Trail, near the hoofstock pastures at the zoo until its permanent home in the Nature’s Wild Backyard exhibit is complete.

In the old days, tickets had to be purchased to ride. Now, rides are by donation, and 100 per cent of the money will go to conservation funds that the Valley Zoo supports.

Rides are only available for children under 127 centimetres, or 50 inches.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson. 

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