The proclamation of the end of summer, the return to school and the resumption of regularly scheduled programming bellows to life tomorrow. Yes folks it's that time again - the Canadian National Exhibition, (aka the CNE or The Ex) 2016 edition, opens for the 138th time in its history.
The last time I was there was 1995.
The best part? Meeting up with my Mom - sharing the memories of bygone years with my daughter.
I'd love to go the Ex again!
I say that every year but as much as I think I would love to go to Ex, I have to concede that the CNE I want to go to is the one I went to as a child in the 1960's.
Teens and adults alike camped out for days in order to be the first through the Princes' Gates. Coming from Etobicoke in the west end of the city, our usual entrance was through the somewhat less grand, yet no less exciting, Dufferin Gate.
After a bus to Jane and Bloor followed by two streetcars, my older sister and I made our way into the fairgrounds, heading straight to the fountain, as per Dad's instructions,
"Meet me at the fountain."
|The Dufferin Gate, ca. 1960|
Then it was on to the Midway, passing by the Press Building, the Better Living Centre, the
Grandstand, and the Food Building.
I'm not sure why but the Food Building was rarely if ever, a permissible stop along the way. Perhaps it was the crowds. Perhaps neither Dad (nor Mom on those few occasions that she came with us) trusted the quality of the offerings. Perhaps it was because they really didn't want us to have a taste of what we could not afford.
Candy floss - which one year ended up as a pink decoration on the back of a man's brown suit . For the record it was my sister's candy floss, not mine. Mine was blue!
Warm ice cream waffles, most of which melted before making it into my mouth, leaving sticky hands and clothes. Dad was not amused.
Sometimes a Corn dog or a few Tiny Tom donuts were the treats of the day.
Flash forward to this year's food offerings at the Ex and I think perhaps my folks restraint still has some merit. Fried butter is so very SIX years ago. 2016 is all about crispy cricket dogs, pulled pork cinnamon buns and steaklairs.
|Rainbow Grilled Cheese - image courtesy of BlogTo|
Want to see more of the 2016 food offerings? Check it out here.
But who cares about the food? The rides are where it's all at!
|The Midway 1966|
Being all of 10 years old my faves were pretty tame: the Ferris Wheel (in later years even the double Ferris Wheel), the carousel and it's souped up sister the Derby Racer, the Dodge 'ems and something called the Polar Express. The games of chance were always a huge disappointment for me. Every year it looked so easy to get that dime onto a plate, or shoot down big yellow ducks as they moved across the shooting gallery. Every year I wasted way too many dimes. And there were tears.
In 1975 my cousin Claire, just a visitor from England, manage to get her coin (by then not 10¢ but 25¢) on the plate. I wasted my quarters - again - but didn't cry, well not really. Okay maybe just a prickling around my eyes...it was sooo not fair!
Back to the 60's - I well recall the year, Dad gave my sister and I $5 to spend on rides (rides back then were 25¢) while he went off exploring some of the buildings. My sister, six years my senior, had different tastes when it came to rides. Not only did she con me into going on the Wild Mouse, she put me in the front seat of those little two-seater cars. Sheer terror! The first and last time I have ever been on a roller coaster.
|The Wild Mouse, 1965|
Touring the back alleys of the sideshows was always an adventure - fun (weird people) and scary (snakes and really weird people). But it was a place my Dad loved. In the mid-1930's he had worked as a carny with the Conklin brothers at these amusement shows during the summer. It helped pay his way through university.
Back then freak shows were a hit - "Believe it or not!" Spectacles we would today find quite despicable today, were all the rage.
As we walked along Dad would begin to recite the well-practiced banter:
"Ernie and Len - Four arms, four legs, two bodies with but a single head.
Come in and see them now."
"Sonteega the headless woman, decapitated in a train accident in Reading, England.
Doctors don't know how long she may live. Come in and see her now!"
Hoppy the Frog Boy, The Fat Lady ("My, but She is FAT") and the snake charmers were in his repertoire too, though few of the characters remained part of the 1960's sideshows. I only 'saw' them through my Dad's recitation, yet I'd go home and parrot Dad's banter to all the neighbourhood kids. They may have been to the Food Building but they never got to see the wonders of the back alley side shows.
Let's go to the Ex!
I'll show you Ernie and Len, Sonteega and maybe some of the others...
Meet me at the fountain.
©2016 April Hoeller