Sign of Summer's Ending. . .The Ex
The Ex begins today for it's two week run. The Ex is the Canadian National Exhibition.
It is an annual event in Toronto which draws people to the city from all over the Province and beyond. It is an institution in Toronto going on almost as long as Canada has been a country. This is it's 135th year.
The Exhibition is a combination of an agricultural fair, trade show, carnival, with countless other entertainments such as a stage show, air show, water shows and my favourite the Lumber Jack Show.
When I was young it was the great exciting event of the summer. Just when the summer was getting boring and we had exhausted our visits to the cottage vacation along came the Ex..
I have wonderful memories of going to the Ex. At the end of the school year they handed out free admission passes at school.. One of the newspapers ran coupons you could clip and use toward rides at the midway.
One could go to the Ex several times and have a good time for very little money. My father did not make very much money in the 50's. He was an electrician and back then they made under $100 a week. In fact, for a short period of time my father was a teacher at the Institute of Trades where he taught electricians for $50 a week. He loved this job and one year had a demonstration class in the Government of Ontario building at the Ex, but they would not give the teachers a raise to he quite saying he was not handicapped like so many of the other teachers and he could go back to his trade and make $90 a week. We lived modestly but comfortably on that. There were three children in our home and my mother was a stay at home mother. It is a time long past. Not many families these days can buy a house and raise a family on the strength of one person working. As I was saying, the Ex was quite inexpensive in the 50's. With free admission and rides on the midway subsidized with coupons from the paper, one had to spend little money. There were lots of free thing to do: wandering through the building and seeing the exhibits, (flower show, automotive building, good housekeeping building, government building, and the food building.) Everywhere you were given free information and in the Food building if you were willing to line up you could eat by getting the free tastings of food products. Many manufacturers gave out free samples of their products. I particularly remember fondly all the free chocolate bars. We came away with bags of stuff. Not only literature and food samples but also such things a covers we could fold and cover our text books at school. which was commonly done back then to protect the books. It was a thrifty culture with adults who had grown up in the Depression.
I was never a big fan of the Midway. I did not like the rides. Frankly, I do not like to be frightened. There were one or two I would go on such as Crack the Whip and the adult faster Merry go Round. These were excitement enough for me. I refused to go on the Flyer (the ancient wooden roller coaster) which by today's standard is very modest. Years later I let my son talk me into going on it and as soon as it started to climb the high spot you fell from I knew I did not want to be on this ride. At 9 he had a wonderful time and a screamed my head off. Never again!
I did like the "Freak Show" in the midway, which I am a little ashamed to admit today. It became socially unacceptable eventually. I was fascinated by it and the strange things it showed and claimed.
I wandered by the games of chance but never tried to play any of them. I learned by lesson years before when I lost my total fortune of $5 at the carnival in our town trying to win some crummy prize. (I previously wrote about this sad lesson). No only do I not play games of skill and chance I have never purchases a lottery ticket of bet on anything to this day.
The Exhibition was always a place with lots of food vendors and the smells of all the varieties of food. We did not spend much on this. We may have gotten a cone of fries or even a Shopsy's hot dog, as a special treat (so much better than those we got at the grocery store). But I always got an ice cream sandwich. Remember when ice cream came in brick form.? One could slice off a 3/4 inch slice at the end and put it between two warm waffles. What a treat. When it came to food we were cheap. We brought our own. My mother made up a picnic lunch. She froze the sandwiches and wrapped them in newspaper. They were thawed out by the time we had lunch usually by the band shell or where we had a view of the lake. We always bought a large cone of an orange drink to go with the lunch, which our whole family shared.
We often split up and went separately to what interested us the most. We would always agree to a time and place to meet up afterwards. The place was the Fountain. We soon learned as kids the basic layout of the grounds and could always find our way to the fountain. For me, I enjoyed the agricultural exhibits in the rambling Coliseum. It was largely a building designed for livestock. Here you would see and touch farm animals up close You could sit and watch them judged and exhibited in various ways. You could also watch the care and grooming of them to put them on show. The building also a lots of places where small animals were exhibited and judged such as rabbits and ducks and chickens. Also there was lots of farm produce and preserved good and crafts that were judged. And it was in this building that there was always a very large sculpture made of butter. One year it was a full sized dairy cow. For farm families from all over Ontario, this must have been a great outing to come to the large city and show off the products from their farms as well as share in the excitement of the rest of the Exhibition. When I was old enough to go to the Ex without the rest of the family I would only spend my time in the Coliseum.
My mother was a terrific sport when it came to the Exhibition. I think she enjoyed it as much as we did. Or course she went to it as a child as well as a parent. I am sure it held special memories for her. One year I remember she agreed to take my brother and a boy around the corner, Percy Harcourt to the Ex. They left very early and were there when the gates opened. The spend the whole day and did not get home until after the fireworks display at Midnight. What a good sport my mother was that day.
One could always find a way to rest at the Ex. We used to go to the Grandstand show in the afternoon in order to be able to sit down and rest after a morning of wandering about. There was also always a water show down by the lake where you could sit and watch the events on the water. And there was the band shell where there we chairs and performances throughout the day. One place I like was at the far West end of the grounds just beyond the Government of Ontario building were my father had his booth of electrician students. It was a baseball park where there seemed to be games throughout the day. One could sit in the bleachers there for a rest. If one did not find some restful time, one would soon be exhausted at the Ex with its noise and activities and crowds in the summer heat.
Years later when I went to the Ex with Parker, it was much the same but a lot more expensive. I was taken aback as to how much it was just to get in. And the free handouts of food were no longer free. Chocolate bars I remember getting for free were now being sold. There seems to have been a cultural generational change. I have not been back since but from what I have read the Exhibition is now a lot different. Many of the buildings I remember have been replaced. And worst of all the agricultural part of it has been much reduced. There is even talk about locating a casino resort on the Exhibition grounds.
I am not sure I would like to visit the Ex again. I prefer to keep my memories in tact. It was a great part of by childhood summer memories for at least a decade. that special timeless decade.
Prince's Gates, 1920. This is the main entrance to the Ex which I never used. I remember entering the grounds by the special streetcar loop, or the Dufferin Gates to the North or more recently the Go Train stop.
This is the midway in 1930 when my mother was 13 and I am sure she and my father were enjoying the Ex that year.
This is the Midway in 1960, perhaps the last time I went as a child.
This picture of the Central Stroll shows the Fountain in the background. Always the most convenient place to meet up with people
This is the entrance to the Pure Food building as I remember it.