Widen Your World – Westward Ho

Westward Ho
1971 – 1973
Country Bear Jamboree Queue Annex
1973 – 1985
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Westward Ho

Extinct WDW Shop

Magic Kingdom

Opened: December 1971
Closed: 1973

Space Later Became:
Country Bear Jamboree Queue Annex,
Bearly Country,
Prairie Outpost & Supply

Space still exists as a different shop

All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company.
Text 2012 by Mike Lee

Last Update to this page: February 28, 2012 (updated text and images)

In the grand tradition of me blowing my own horn loudly in other people’s faces, it gives me some pleasure to present the brief but poignant story of the Magic Kingdom’s second official extinction*, a little Frontierland shop by the name of Westward Ho.  Named for a 1935 western starring John Wayne, this short-lived merchandise outlet was tucked into the narrow indoor space between the Country Bear Jamboree’s entrance and the show’s exit hall adjacent to the Mile Long Bar – a space that is currently home to Prairie Outpost & Supply.  Westward Ho is a shop that disappeared and more or less returned eighteen years later but had to take a different name.  If you want to know why, pull up a stool.

Above is a picture of Panchito from the Three Caballeros. This photo almost tells the whole saga in less than a thousand words.  Notice in the background that there is only a barren hill and a water tower. When Frontierland opened with the rest of the park in October 1971, there was no magnet attraction at the end of the street.  Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad had not even been conceived yet, Tom Sawyer Island was desolate, unnamed and off-limits to guests while the original Frontierland Railroad Station was only in the planning stages.

Aside from the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes (which at that time set sail from the future location of the Tom Sawyer Island Raft Landing), all of Frontierland came to an unglamorous dead end where the Pecos Bill Cafe (now Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn & Cafe) resided.  The area surrounding that building was configured ambiguously as many facilities, including the Cafe itself, were still in development at the time.  Among those was a small shop, our friend Westward Ho, which would open its doors that December.

With little to do at the end of the street, Frontierland’s main draw was the brand new Country Bear Jamboree. In fact, right in front of this attraction was the westernmost passage from Frontierland to Adventureland, as Caribbean Plaza and its outer loop pathway northward into Frontierland were still two years away.

So the Country Bear Jamboree, a tremendously popular show** at that time and for some ten years to come, was enjoying high visitation and a queue that snaked its way out of Grizzly Hall’s lobby and along the front porches and street space of the neighboring establishments – namely Westward Ho. This is why Panchito has something upon which to rest his roguish rooster arm/wing in that photo – there were queue stanchions spread all over the street to hold all the people fixated on seeing those musical bears! If you could look to the left, behind Panchito, you would see the narrow porch space between the queue and Westward Ho – shown in the adjacent early black and white photo. You would also see how difficult it would be for this small shop to succeed with a glut of queue-bound guests meandering all over its front deck.

To counter this problem, park management acted pragmatically and made an emboldened move that would be unthinkable today: they closed the shop.  Yes, Disney closed a shop in order to make additional queue space available – indoors and air-conditioned – for the comfort of the huddled masses lined up for the Country Bear Jamboree.  By the end of 1973 those guests were filtered into the ex-Westward Ho space for a brief respite from the punishing Florida heat before heading out again on their way to the main attraction entrance.  Incidentally, most guests failed to see this as an act of kindness on the part of the company. Rather the common complaint was that Disney had thrown them a curve ball by leading them indoors and back out again before reaching the real entrance.  They thought of it as a trick, which just reinforces the idea that some good deeds will be misinterpreted.  Like the time I sorted all my aunt’s cats alphabetically by color.

* The first official extinction was Adventureland’s Safari Club Arcade, which closed c. April 1972.  By official I mean we’re not counting the unnamed 1971 food court in Tomorrowland that used to sit on the Carousel of Progress site.  Or specific benches.

** The Country Bear Jamboree was so popular in Florida that when the attraction was brought to Disneyland in 1972 as the centerpiece of Bear Country, they build two identical theaters to help minimize wait times.

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Only with the passage of time and the addition of new attractions in western Frontierland (such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1980) did the Country Bear Jamboree queue become manageable enough for the company to “reconsider” the space distribution arrangement.  Perhaps other factors had a bearing also, such as directives from new management (Michael Eisner & Frank Wells arrived in September 1984) to increase the profitability of Disney’s park operations.  At any rate, in 1985 the space formerly known as the Westward Ho shop and the trickiest queue space ever was reinvented as Bearly Country…”Where Grandma would love to browse.”  This down-home store specialized in teddy bears and some backwoods clothing.

If any Grandmas were browsing they must not have bought much because in 1991 the store’s name was changed to Prairie Outpost & Supply – shown above and below.  The selection of goods became even more apparel-oriented at that time, and after a brief stint as Pocahontas merchandise headquarters in 1995, evolved into the candy shop it was when I last set foot inside.

Hey, back to Panchito again: to his right you see the original Frontierland popcorn wagon shelter.  By early 1986 this shelter had been reworked as a more comprehensive food operations cabin, with a shelter tacked onto its western side that remained the home of the popcorn wagon. One guess as to what this little food cabin was named … Westward Ho! So when Bearly Country was ready to switch over to different merchandise in 1991 and wanted to ditch the ursine title, the store’s original name had already been usurped.  Hence the decision to go with Prairie Outpost, and thereby wrapping up WYW’s tale of the little gift shop that gave its life in the name of guest comfort.   All I’ve had to add since 2009 are the slide scan images below showing where an identifying sign could be found on Westward Ho’s exterior in 1972.

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First draft of page posted October 1999
Updated June 13, 2009 (additional text and images) and February 28, 2012 (additional text and images)

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