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Party of Lost Children
October 27, 2011 11:01 PM   Subscribe

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was a popular children’s birthday-party venue that was run out of several locations in North Toronto in the 1980's. Whisked away in a hearse, throngs of elementary-school children were led through a "magical underground kingdom" by teenaged attendants, participating in whipped-cream fights and shopping-cart bumpercars, with no parents allowed.

People who grew up in Toronto a the time look back at the Mad Hatter with mixed feelings.
posted by murphy slaw (29 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy mother of God. It's like seeing the dark heart of Canadian childhood laid bare.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:17 PM on October 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think I can say it any better than LS. I'm not Canadian so I never heard of this, but my god, I'm amazed at how bizarro-world that whole setup was.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 11:22 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sounds like somebody tried to create a kids version of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

We were on Highway 7 just outside of Toronto when the sugar rush began to kick in . . .

Buy the ticket, take the ride.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:33 PM on October 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


No parents allowed!
posted by benzenedream at 11:41 PM on October 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Every child deserves a birthday like this!
posted by arse_hat at 12:12 AM on October 28, 2011


mixed feelings.

They run the range from "It was awesome" to "It sucked because I never got invited!"
posted by delmoi at 12:13 AM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


What could possibly go wrong with this setup?

"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his Blood!"

Oh, right...
posted by Skeptic at 2:42 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


My word. This sounds like Stanley Spadowski's Fun House, without the calming influence of Stanley Spadowski.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:59 AM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I wonder if this guy ever considered a service that would hire out alcoholic clowns to berate all the kids at a birthday party, or superheroes that look disturbingly close to their namesake ("Don't run away kids! I'm Batman! Really!").

Traumatized children are always a sound business plan.
posted by anthom at 3:19 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Traumatized children are always a sound business plan.

Might explain Stinson's success as a condo developer, then.
posted by scruss at 4:14 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Small business is the backbone of the economy
posted by bendybendy at 4:16 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sucked because I never got invited.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:26 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


that is so. awesome.
posted by Tom-B at 4:46 AM on October 28, 2011


bodily endangerment, ritual humiliation and untold health-code violations

Sounds like a perfect place to prepare kids to be college freshmen!
posted by Twang at 5:34 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, to be fair, childhood is a surreal nightmare worthy of the Lewis Carroll treatment.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:42 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is unbelievable. I know it was thirty years ago or so, but even then, this would have been beyond the pale. And these days, I cannot imagine a parent signing on for a party that involves taking kids to a "creepy basement" so boys can strip to their underwear and throw whipped cream at each other.

There's something about the concept that I really like, but it seems to have failed grievously in the execution. And doesn't the young Stinson, in that photo, project all the 'young tycoon' arrogance that's gotten so familiar these days?
posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this must have been a central Toronto thing, because I was a kid in Etobicoke (now western Toronto) at the exact right time, and I never heard of this place.

Of course, if I had heard of it, I totally would have wanted to go. And I'm worried that I might have really enjoyed the Lord-of-the-flies-esque brutality/chaos. It makes Chucky-cheeses look so plain and boring in comparison.
posted by jb at 6:50 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then again, I lived in San Francisco at some of the relevant times and NONE of my family even heard of People's Temple.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:53 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went to a birthday party at the Mad Hatter. Its the only birthday party from that age (approx 8 or so) that I remember at all, and it was awesome.

I've definitely had thoughts over the years, when something makes one of the memories bubble up, that this wasn't such a smart idea and it would never happen today, but that's an adult thinking. When I was a kid, it was just a place where you were encouraged to do the stuff you weren't allowed to do anywhere else.

And yes, the kids who didn't get invited were bitterly envious.
posted by renderthis at 7:25 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds insane. From the comments: "I remember a party there. The birthday boy was a trouble maker (Jeremy C. – you know who you are). He discovered that if you rip the cushions from the wall in the pillow fight room, the nails that were still attached made better weapons than the pillows."

Man, just reading that gives my inner kid a panic attack.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Skeptic, you're probably joking, but it's closer to the truth than you might imagine:

I taught preschool for a while in between college and grad school. One day, my coworker and I had our classes out on the playground, and I took some kids inside to go to the bathroom while my coworker (theoretically, at least) watched the other kids. When I came back, I found a circle of four year olds with sticks surrounding one chubby three year old laying on the ground. The four year olds were yelling, I kid you not, "kill the pig! kill the pig!"

I took away their sticks and went and yelled at my coworker for doing whatever it was she was doing instead of watching the damn kids. Remembering that, and what a small group of kids is capable of getting up to in a mere five-ten minutes unsupervised, my inner preschool teacher is jumping up and down screaming reading this article. I really can't imagine how nobody ended up seriously injured or dead.

Being a preschool teacher really ruins your ideas of fun.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 9:54 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm bemused by the way comments are split evenly between "Oh my god, that really happened to me? It was so smelly and creepy and gross" and "Hell yeah, hearse rides, pillow fights in a dark creepy basement, parties there were the best!"
posted by usonian at 10:24 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to see a sit-com in the style of Party Down with the teenage workers.
posted by wcfields at 10:34 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of reminiscences definitely have the Uncle Touchy's Puzzle Basement vibe.
posted by murphy slaw at 11:05 AM on October 28, 2011


Skeptic, you're probably joking, but it's closer to the truth than you might imagine

Oh no, I wasn't joking. We were all children once, it's just that some of us remember it better than others. Children are cute little psychopaths in disguise.
posted by Skeptic at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2011


that was run out of several locations in North Toronto

Well, you can certainly see why.
posted by dhartung at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2011


No Big People Allowed!
posted by Wet Spot at 1:59 PM on October 28, 2011


I...wow. Did you ever have a childhood memory that you were sure you dreamed or hallucinated suddenly come into focus? Still fuzzy, but just the fact that I now remember that this place was real and I went to a party there is both strangely gratifying and terrifying. At least I didn't make it up. But I kind of wish I had...yikes.
posted by ilana at 5:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, pre-band camp.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2011


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