Every year, for the past....goodness knows how long, I make my way down to the CNE (The Canadian National Exhibition). Therein, I eat, drink and take in all the wondrously bright and bold colours, characters and creations found inside.
The very first CNE was held in 1852, although at that time it much more resembled the Royal Winter Fair we have today. It mostly consisted of horse shows and farmers exhibiting off the best of Ontario's produce. But in 1882 the switch was flipped, quite literally, and electricity was brought to the grounds! As the lights were strung up and the rides flooded in, people came by the droves to celebrate the last week of summer in style - and the same is true today.
|Photo Credit: The City of Toronto Archives|
I thought it was busy when we were there but looking at the hundreds of people crowded into these pictures makes me feel like we had it easy...It's amazing to see that even in 1920 the CNE was the place to be!
|Photo Credit: The City of Toronto Archives|
For me, being at the CNE makes me feel like a kid again. And when you're 26 years-old, with a mortgage, two jobs and a full-time social schedule, it's nice to go somewhere where you can forget all that and just eat junk food, ride brightly lit Carousels and run around cooing at all the adorable little animals in the "Farm Building".
Even if you're not a big rides person or enjoy the slightly kitschy nature of an old fashioned Midway, the #1 reasons to attend the CNE is the food. Yes it's expensive and yes it's more than likely going to shave a few years off your life expectancy, but it is surely some of the most delicious food found within one little building!
Snow cones, Dutch poutine, pierogies, roasted corn, candy and more are all at your fingertips the minute you walk in the doors. Line-ups were longer than I remember this year but always worth the wait! We opted to eat in shifts and took our first meal, of spicy Dutch poutine, outside on the grass. We sat there and watched people win silly little, stuffed prizes and children run around with light up bubble guns...I still regret not getting one of those for myself...
I walked Dan around the Farm building and we watched baby piggies fight over their mother's milk, llamas and goats peering out looking for food and all varieties of cows in the Dairy sitting leisurely - bellies full of soon to be born babies.
The Butter Sculptures are usually a mainstay of the Royal Winter Fair but their popularity has grown such that even the CNE has jumped on the butter sculpture bandwagon. I've never really understood butter sculptures - it always just seems like a waste of delicious butter to me - but they are always very impressive works of art and this year's Butter Sculpture Winner, a still life of our Silly Ol' Mayor, was a pretty clever take on these fatty figures...
Outside, toys vaguely resembling their cartoon counterparts, hang off ancient hooks and hangers in the arcade..hoping to be won and set free. I love playing the duck game. You know the one, the one where you pay $5 for the guarantee of winning a prize. Pick three ducks up out of the pond and win one of various sized stuff animals. I Know the prize costs them about a penny and the chances of finding that one duck in the pond worthy of the $5 price point is almost an impossibility but I enjoy playing a game where I know I can't lose and where in the end a little teddy bear or turtle is the best-worst thing that I can end up with. There're not many times in life where even the worst case scenario can still make you smile.
But for me, it's all about the Midway....the best part of the whole day is after the sun goes down, and the rides begin to light up and their bright colours and vintage glow seems to sing against the black sky.
Dan thinks that there is something a little creepy about the Midway and he's not wrong but I do love that about the whole thing. It's a moment frozen in time. Rides like ghosts that return year after year, unchanging, unageing. Rides are just the way they are, and have always been. Sure, some of the mechanics might have gotten a little more sophisticated and some newer rides have crept in but for the most part there remains an ageless to the place.
One of my friends from work told me a story about how her mother used to always take her on the Polar Express ride ever since she was a little girl. There's something comforting to know that even though she's not a little girl anymore and time has brought change to her life, that that ride is still there, the same as it always was. Memories of all those times together locked away in the wood of that sparkling, singing ride.
This year they introduced the "Skyrider". This was a basically a simple chair lift that spanned the entire length of Princess Boulevard. I'm not a rides person. I love to look at them but not ride them. I wish I was someone who could ride them though. I think I would love to get whirled around aimless and feel the wind rushing through my hair from up on of the swings swirling around in the sky - but alas I get very, very bad motion sickness so generally I'm grounded throughout my time at the CNE. But this seemed like a ride I could handle. The line was long but we stuck it through it and the minute we were in the air - it was all worth it.
Flying high above the fair you could see the CN tower glowing in the distance, hear the rumble of midway rides roaring below and you could watch all the twinkly lights shine beneath your feet.
I held tight to the bar, and to Dan, as we floated across the Boulevard. It was definitely worth the mere 4 tickets it costs as the ride seemed to last forever. And if I may say so myself, it was pretty darn romantic too. I hope they keep this one around for awhile - we non-riders need more things like this.
As the night drew to a close and our tummies had had enough of all the delicious fried goodness we had punished it with, we grabbed a few Tiny Tom's doughnuts for the road and bid adieu to the bright lights and laughter of the fair grounds and headed home. It was one of the last warm nights of the summer and what a way to spend it :)