The CNE ~ Canadian National Exhibition


6 Significant CNE Changes in 20 Years

the exThis is the 20th anniversary of my first summer working at the Canadian National Exhibition, known affectionately as simply The Ex. Although much has changed in the last 20 years, including a reduction in the number of days The Ex is now open, here are six significant changes I noticed during my visit yesterday.

BMO Field

20 years ago, Exhibition Stadium was found on the Exhibition grounds. It was home to the Blue Jays and Argos and several big-name concerts. One of the biggest differences between The Ex of 1989 and The Ex of today is the absence of Exhibition Stadium and the presence of BMO Field, home to Toronto FC, a team that didn't even exist 20 years ago. At least some seats from Exhibition Stadium survived the demolition.

BMO Field

Hand Sanitizer Stations

Walking the midway I noticed several hand sanitizer stations. We sure didn't have these twenty years ago. It's a wonder we survived our visits to The Ex.

Hand Sanitizing Station

Obama Dolls

20 years ago, George Bush Sr. was President of the United States of America. You didn't find a single George Bush doll available to be won on the midway. Yesterday, I spotted Barrack Obama dolls amongst the game booth flash. Yes we can!

Obama Dolls

The CNE Casino

The most popular midway games in 1989 where the small betting games. You'd put money on a number or colour and the carny would spin a wheel. I think they capped bets at $5 a pop, but I can't recall. Today, there's a CNE Casino. I didn't enter the CNE Casino, but I'll bet it was filled to the brim.

CNE Casino

The Polar Express Went R&B

My old game booth, Pop-A-Ball, was located right by The Polar Express. I've written about The Polar Express before. 20 years ago, it was all rock screaming out of the Polar Express speakers. The only time it wasn't rock was when we were shutting down to the sounds of Louis Armstrong. Yesterday, as I watched the Polar Express riders, I only heard R&B blasting. It's like going from a Leafs game to a Raptors game.

Polar Express

My Game Booth is Now Fresh Mini Donuts

When you worked the same game for 60 days of The Ex in a row, you know exactly where it stood, even twenty years later. Where Pop-A-Ball once stood is now a Fresh Mini Donuts stand. For me personally, this is the most significant change of all.

Where Pop-A-Ball Used to Be

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5 DVDs for $20 @ The Ex

cdAt the Ex yesterday, they had this "5 DVDs for $20" deal. There's four of us in the family, so everyone got to choose a movie and I'd top it off with one family flick.

Here's the choices made. Keep in mind, this DVD shack didn't have any A-list titles. It was strictly B-list, but at $4 a pop we went for it.

My Daughter - An Arthur compilation. Arthur, for the unaware, is an anthropomorphic aardvark.

My Son - A Scooby Doo compilation.

My Wife - Natural Born Killers

Me - Clerks

The Family Pic - A Mighty Wind

5 for $20

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A Great Day at The Ex: Three Reasons Why

CNEI'm back from a great day at the CNE. I've written extensively about my three summers working at the Canadian National Exhibition as a teenager, so when I join the family for a trip to the Ex now it's really for three reasons.

The Sights, Sounds and Smells
I love walking the midway, hearing the carny calls, the music, the bells, the whistles and screams. There's a distinctive sound to the CNE midway that takes me back and I love immersing myself in it. Joining that Ex sound is that Ex smell. The waffles and corn dogs and cotton candy melts together to form this distinctive syrupy sweet CNE odour. You know it when you smell it, and it too takes me back. Then, to complete this smörgåsbord of senses, there are all those colours and blinking lights and flash. I can walk the CNE midway for hours without feeling the slightest impulse to play a game or go on a ride. I just like being there.

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The Canadian International Air Show
I've always loved the air show. I loved it as a kid and I love it today. I've got my kids loving it too, so we park ourselves at the bleachers by the lake around noon and soak in the aviation excitement. This year's show was spectacular as usual as we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Canadian International Air Show and the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada.

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The Food Building
Nothing is better than heading to the Food Building after the Air Show. There's so much tasty goodness in that building and some pretty sweet deals. My mom can never resist the 99¢ spaghetti, my daughter scored a $1.50 jumbo hot dog, my wife made two trips to the pierogi place and my son and I went for ribs. The Food Building is a key part of any visit to the Ex.

FOOD

That's all I need. I don't need the rides, games or exhibits. I like the walk, the ambiance, the air show and the Food Building. And once a summer is frequent enough.

Here's my photoset from today's visit. I'm beat.

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I Worked at The Ex in '89, '90 and '91

CNEThe Canadian National Exhibition opens next week. Of the 131 years of The Ex's existence, I worked a game booth across from The Polar Express every day it was open for three of 'em: 1989, 1990 and 1991.

If you want to revisit my many CNE memories, visit my CNE page where I've shared several stories from my very first job.

Here are some of the highlights:

If you read nothing else in my 9202 entry archive, read those CNE entries. Trust me, you'll never look at a carnie the same way again.

I recently discovered some old pictures in a shoe box while cleaning my basement and I've uncovered what is likely the only picture of me working that game booth at The Ex. The lack of Bart Simpson dolls tell me this is likely the summer of 1989.

Pop-A-Ball

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1990 Canadian National Exhibition

cneI was searching YouTube for something completely different when I came across this montage of the Canadian National Exhibition in 1990. That was one of three summers I worked there and you can read my stories right here.

Watching this video took me right back. Unfortunately, there are no scenes of my game that summer, Pop-a-Ball, but there was plenty of Bart Simpson who dominated the splashing schemas. I still have the Bart Simpson doll we were giving away as the grand prize.

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We Went To The Ex, Oh Baby!

the cneSince I worked at the CNE for three years in the late 80s and early 90s, I've only been to the CNE once. I think I simply overdosed on the place, having walked that midway 60 days in a row. Taryn and I went once about ten years ago and we hadn't been back until today.

The Smell
The first think I noticed about the CNE was the smell. The Ex has an odour, and it's not necessarily bad, despite what some would say. It's a smell of carnival snacks and food more than anything. The Ex has an odour, and one whiff takes you back to your last visit, even if it's been about a decade.

The Memories
For me, walking the CNE brings back a trailer load of memories, many of which I shared here. The configuration has changed a little, and a soccer stadium has been built, but a great deal is exactly as I remember it. The Food Building still has those powdered doughnuts and 99¢ spaghetti, the Polar Express operator is still asking if you wanna go faster and the ring toss is still rigged.

The Ex
The Exhibition itself is a little underwhelming. I'm not a midway fan, knowing how foolish you have to be to play the games, and the rides aren't particularly inviting. That leaves you with the buildings, and they're no great shucks either, except for The Food Building, which I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy the CNE for the sights, sounds, smells and the air show.

The Air Show
This was the primary reason we all went to the Ex today. My buddy Humble Howard came through with free passes to the grounds and air show and I've always loved the air show. It was three hours of awesomeness and a total blast. Michelle thought some of the jets were a little loud, but she loved it as did James.

Here's a photoset of our trip to the Canadian National Exhibition.

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A Great Tradition at the Exhibition

CNEWhat the heck happened to our summer? Can the CNE really be starting up tomorrow? In the words of the great Cinderford, Gloucestershire band EMF, that's unbelievable.

If you want to revisit my many Canadian National Exhibition memories with me, visit my CNE page where I've shared stories from my three years working there as a game booth attendant.

Here are some of the highlights:

You'll never look at a carnie the same way again.

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In Defense of Carnies

cneIt just so happens that my shower radio is tuned to 102.1 and my morning showers last week coincided with a bit where the CFNY morning guys made fun of carnies working the Canadian National Exhibition. Throughout the CNE it's common for carnie jokes to resurface. I suspect carnies are the last sub culture it's still socially acceptable to belittle.

Because somebody's gotta do it, I'm coming to the defense of carnies. I feel just in doing so, having worked alongside these people for over sixty days spread across three years in the late 80s and early 90s. You can read about some of my experiences working the CNE.

In my experience, carnies are loyal, generous, salt of the earth people. As a collective, they would give you the shirt of their back if you asked and look out for one another without question. They may not be the most educated bunch, but they're typically sharp and resourceful. When you need a helping hand, there's no where better to turn. I'll never forget that 1990 August day.

I was scared. It was after midnight, we were locking up the booths and a larger, inebriated goon was there to kick my ass. If you want the deets as to how we got to this scenario, read the entry. In no mood to take a severe beating, I called upon the only people who I thought could help me. I turned to the CNE Conklin carnies.

They responded perfectly. I can see him pounding that pipe into his hand right now. Conklins saved my ass that day and I'm sure I'm not the only one with a story like this. Cut the carnies some slack. Find another sect to ridicule next time you need a Jerry Springer pick me up. You'll never meet a better class of people.

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A Great Tradition

cneWith the Canadian National Exhibition in full swing, this is the ideal time to revisit my "Tales from the Ex".

Three years as a games booth attendant provided me with some pretty cool stories. Here are seven I shared during the summer of 2004. Read 'em while they're hot.

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Tales From The Ex Revisited

CNELast year, during the 125th Canadian National Exhibition, I shared some stories from my three years working there as a game booth attendant. With the 126th CNE in full effect, the timing is right to revisit these tales.

They were truly great times.

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