The Canadian National Exhibition, (CNE, or “The Ex,” to locals) is an annual end of summer fair which has been held in Toronto, in one form or another, since 1879.

The diversity of the offerings is staggering – and more than ever before, there is something for everyone. Not just rides, games, food, crafts and bargains – but innumerable events bringing proud experts from far and wide including horticultural, sandcastle and pinball competitions, to name but a few.

Recent additions like a low key bistro with live jazz and wine tasting, beer kiosks with great local microbrews, racks of corn on the grill and even a Mr Vegetable kiosk (compensating for the relative unimpeachability of their ingredients, by thoroughly deep-frying everything) prove the innovations, crass and classy both, continue.

The Princes’ gates – Chinese paper lantern version (top photo)

The Princes’ gates, as I mentioned once before, were originally conceived to celebrate nationhood, but when the responsible committee learned that there would be no less than two full royal princes in town for the ceremony, they hastily decided on a re-name, with which to recruit them. Casually refer to it as the “Princess gates” – and we know you ain’t from around here!

Marionettes, seated for the sky concert

This venerable beauty is without doubt one of the prettiest and most decorated rides around – every facet and panel painted with a cheerful and colourful portrait.

The idea of a swing also inspires fundamental confidence somehow, for it’s childhood familiarity – mind you, they really do get zooming pretty high and speedy there for awhile. Maybe I’ll work up more of a vertiginous appetite next year.

I really love how they all look like they’re seated in the sky, waiting for the show to begin.

Be a perfect moment for JWH to show up with a nice opening joke, no?

As fun as a ride can be

We spent a lot of time on the midway, but we also visited the lovely and charmed area with a scaled down version of the midway – everything just right for the littler kids, where they won’t ever get their feelings hurt by older kids, or burst into tears because they are too short to ride anything.  Also, the rides being much gentler, they (and their fretting folks) don’t ever get too badly scared (though they sure do enjoy screaming from sheer thrill and delight).

Nada and I watched one determined youngster trying the cutest little classic ‘strongman’ mallet weight and bell setup you ever saw. We were so scared when he struck a pitiful blow, twice in a row, that when he did ring the bell on his third (and final) try, we clapped and cheered along with his mom, while he went off very proudly to select his preferred inflatable Day-Glo spiked club (a favourite super-cute prize seen everywhere, this year).

The particular group on this car race ride were all insanely happy (hard to choose just one shot) – and they reminded us beautifully just how much fun you can have with even very simple stimulus, when you are effortlessly contributing your own active imagination and delight to the moment!

Grandma smoked him

There are funny games of all sorts – some solo skill-testers, and some which are competitive. So why not a skee-ball powered dog driven firetruck race? – plenty of fun visuals abounding, right from the get-go.

But the real bonus here was the sweet and specific moment I caught – the kid was so sure he had the prize, almost at the finish line and suddenly – wham – he was totally smoked by grandma on the corner – and boy were the guys running the race ever enjoying it!

Still further evidence (not that such is often needed) that age and guile can still beat youth and beauty any day of the week!

So many excellent questions

This reptile handler and advocate was doing a really nice job introducing the little ones to creatures they had never seen before. They were invited to pet the critter softly, and they asked a million questions at least – all of them excellent!

That combination of fear and curiosity is something that never really leaves us – but it was great to be reminded of it, by folks who always have better things to do with their time and energy (play) than try to hide it (lie) – as if everyone else in the world isn’t troubled by the very same doubts and wonderment, albeit, with their own particular balance of forces.

One of Alan Watts’ most interesting observations about Carl Jung was that he was a man who was able to feel human weaknesses, and recognize these in himself clearly for what they were, without ever feeling ashamed about the simple fact that he was experiencing them.  (Truly a genius life-hack)

Then again, when we’re really little kids, we all know how to be that honest and present, only later are we taught to suppress that skill (part of our necessary, and yet no less tragic socialization process). Getting that level of vivid non-alienated reality back again (presumably without completely abandoning our intervening socialization) can be the hard work of decades!

Or sometimes, when we’re really lucky, it comes in an effortless and instant epiphany.

Mad mole – slow moment

Second only to the tradition of going to the Ex, first with your parents, then with your pals, is getting a lousy summer job there when you’re a teenager, and wishing that you could be on the rides like your friends, instead of handing out mole-whackers and prizes.

Mind you – he’s got fresh air, at least – I really feel bad for the kids inside the little miniature steel and glass kitchen-kiosks (cooking up anything you can think of, as long as it’s fried, deep-fried, double-dipped or covered in icing sugar). Way too much heat – and way too little air!

Then again, free food is a far better bonus over time than this guy is ever likely to get.

You can really only give your girlfriend so many purple dragons before the simulated thoughtfullness effect wears off pretty much completely.

Crazy mouse

The list of old rollercoasters from childhood fairgrounds is almost as sentimental a subject as ‘greasy spoons I have adored’, for curmudgeons like me. The ancient wooden ‘Flyer’ (which once tumbled my wife right out of one car, and into the seat of a car behind) is long gone – and probably best so (lovely creaky and traditional, though it undoubtedly was).

There used to be the Wildcat and the Wild Mouse, until one of them dropped a car and hurt someone (way back in the 1970s, fear not) – now we’ve got (among others) the Crazy Mouse – because, why not take the steep and speedy descent with some wonky unpredictable rotation, added in?

You didn’t really need that vestibular equilbrium for anything this week anyhow, did you?  ;o)

Tentacular preparations

It’s always lovely to be flung about in circles within circles – these rides take on all sorts of forms (many spidery types) but I was pleased this one was just into being colourful and shiny – perfect twilight lens-food.

Worth noting – there were plenty of people riding everything, all day long – but we only saw two line-ups which looked positively scary. One was for the “super-dogs” show (live stunt-dogs).  Which line was made up almost entirely of kids under eight, standing with an already-bored parent – who was looking forward at least, to the long awaited cessation of the pleading. ;o)

The other lineup that scared us off (more’s the pity) was the sky ride! Much better ventilated, if not nearly so substantial as the old ‘Alpine Way’ – which used to have full four-person cable-cars (which teenagers used to love, for taking a break and smoking a joint), and a tacky faux Swiss beer garden at the base.

Can’t help thinking we owe our cameras that high angle on the sparkling midway, next time – we’ll just have to pack some extra patience (or perhaps stop by the brewery kiosk for a sample or two, first, to achieve classic blunt-instrument time-dilation).  ;o)

Do you want to go faster?

The polar express is a very strange ride – the idea that simulating a polar bear involves rotating backward uphill under brightly coloured blinking lighting while being assaulted by incredibly loud rock music, might not stand up to close scrutiny.

On the other hand, many teenagers used ride this one, in order to snuggle and make out with with their sweetie.  To this day it maintains the same OTT garish vibe that I first caught in the 70s – and it is still operated all day long, by one of those obnoxiously (relentlessly?) cheerful disk-jockeys.

Just when you can’t see anything at all for the blur, or hear anything over the din, the DJ will get on the microphone and say, “Do you want to go faster?” And then hit the lever hard, while also activating a few additional lights and a screaming siren (which probably adds considerably more to the perception of speed, than any measurable increase in the actual rate of travel would suggest).

Don’t imagine I’ll ever ride this again (I like my eardrums the way they are, thanks) – but I’m so darned glad that it’s still doing it’s crazy thing.  A tacky classic!

Screamy boatload and the all-seeing eye

As we got into the evening, we had that gallery-full feeling of sated sensors, and our limbs too, were tiring, but the kids and especially teenagers were still lining up for more ride-tickets, and many enjoy the fair especially at night.

Caramel corn and stuftie romance!  An underrated aesthetic that still makes perfect sense to a couple of silly folks like Catherine and I, over fifty or not.  (There is no law that says you have to give up silliness and enchanment, no matter how old you get).

Plus – the night is a very distinct environment, with it’s own beauty and appeal on every level.

Granted, I will admit that those swings at this time of night would definitely not be ideal for photography – but for the sheer experience of blissful elevated circling gliding and whooshing? The slow deepening blues of the gathering night must be an absolutely lovely bonus.

Almost like adding meditative music to your floatation-tank experience!

(Best bring your own music for that one, though, trust me on this – unless you happen to be that rare and most fortunate individual who is still at this very late date not yet entirely sick of Enya).

(Just click the photo at the very top of the article, to scroll through all of the pix at full-screen resolution!)

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