In Toronto, the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) opens up for another season. Having grown up in Toronto, I was able as a kid to go yearly to the CNE, first with my parents, then eventually with friends. Over the years however, the constant changes to the Ex made going there less and less enjoyable.
Ironically Ontario Place was in the news this week with talk of changes on how to revitalize the park to make it once again a tourist destination but I wonder if organizers don’t get ahead of the curve, will we be discussing the fate of the CNE in the same way?
Until Canada’s Wonderland was built north of Toronto, the CNE was really the only place for amusement rides. With favorites such as the Double Looper, the Rotor, the Zipper, the Polar Express, the haunted houses and long gone historic rides such as the Flyer and the Alpine, this was where you would get your thrills. Eventually the Flyer was chopped to fire wood, the Alpine was taken down and periodic stories would appear about ride malfunctions causing injury or death. Slowly the midway became an afterthought to more income producing events.
As a kid, you could go Thursdays and get an all day ride pass for $20, today there are discounted entrance fees and reduced coupon prices for rides, but little incentive to stay there all day.
Today, staying at the Ex all day would be financially draining as they have jacked up other costs as well. There was the time that you could go to the Food Building and get great deals for a meal. It was affordable to have both lunch and dinner there as it was a great place to get free samples, and to try new products or international foods. Today, with the influence of chain outlets, and few giveaways prices are similar to going to a sporting event with $4 pizza slices and $3 hot dogs washed down with $2 pop. Although Tiny Tom’s Donuts are still around, they will run you around $7 a bag.
In the past you could even make an event of your day there by going to a ball game in the day with free admission with your Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Argo ticket, then take in the attractions to celebrate your teams win.
Before its move to Yonge and Front, the Hockey Hall of Fame was a yearly stop for all visitors as was the Merchants building for some great deals on electronics and house hold items. The Merchant pavilion still remains, but gone are the on the floor price slashing deals replaced by booths for “Sham-Wow” or “As Seen on TV”. The Direct Energy building has the At Home Pavilion which is basically a re-hash of the Toronto Home Show featuring roofing companies, landscape architects and ‘big box’ store booths attempting to sign you up to their newsletter in exchange for a paint stir stick.
There were always the great concerts at the Grandstand to see the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Rush, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Diana Ross, or free concerts at the band shell performed by Sass Jordan, Colin James or Kim Mitchell (ironically Mitchell is performing there this year).
Even if you couldn’t afford to go see the big bands, you could still hear their music throughout the park.
This year’s stellar musical lineup includes Bobby Vinton, Debbie Reynolds, The National Band of the Naval Reserve and the Funk Brothers. (Kim Mitchell is starting to look good compared to this lineup).
Let’s not forget the games which have never been easy for any generation to win at but at least you could play a few and win a mediocre prize at best. Today’s games allow you to win a token toy (sold at the Dollar Store 10/$1) but if you play 75 games at $5 each, you can eventually trade up to a Toys ‘R US quality stuffed doll worth $25 (HST not included).
At the end of the long day, instead of having the Alpine ride that I could hop on to have one final ride over the crowds to get me back to the Dufferin gates from the Princes’ Gate, the option is to take a street car to Bathurst station, or take an express shuttle car through the mass of humanity to the other side of the park.
I have fond memories of the CNE but the commercialism has slowly reduced the ‘end of summer’ event into a giant shopping mall surrounded by gambling booths. With the sports teams gone, the big concerts heading to indoor arenas, with the competition for midway rides being lost to the giant amusement park down the highway, the CNE needs to think about changes now. A lot of people still go to the CNE today out of a sense of nostalgia. As they get older, will their kids keep up that tradition, or will the overheard grumbling by their parents bemoaning the costs and lack of value of the Ex, make it an event doomed to be remembered only as a Wikipedia page.
I have always liked Ontario Place and hope that someone can make that site work again, I really hope that decades from now, the CNE doesn’t suffer the same fate.
from your own site.