Entertainment: The Changing Allure of the EX

by Dale Sproule

When I was a child growing up on the Canadian prairies, the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) was a glittering explosion of fun that flared up once a year on the other side of the country. We couldn’t see it from 2,000 miles away, and a trip that long was not something most people had done or could do in the 1950s. But we knew it was a big event and we knew it was in Canada
– so we were proud of it.

The rides were legendary.

I’d be at the Klondike Days Exhibition in Edmonton, coming off a roller coaster (the most exciting and stomach-churning experience in my short life) and the kids getting off in front of us would say things like “They have a roller coaster twice this size at the CNE” referring to the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. Then you’d hear a retort like, “Oh yeah? The one at the CNE is about five times as big.”

The CNE. Oooooh.

The world’s largest annual exhibition, the CNE, has been casting its spell over Canadians for 130 years. Dozens of agricultural and technological innovations were introduced there. In 1882, the CNE (then called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition) was the first to be lit by electricity, and it was at the CNE that the Canadian public was introduced to Edison’s phonograph, the wireless telegraph, radio, television and virtual reality.

Coming from another country, you may never have heard of the CNE. But if you have been in Canada for a few years, you may know it as the EX – which is how they promote it these days. That’s right! The EX = the CNE.

But here in the 21st century, it doesn’t have quite the same allure as it once did. In these days of global migration and instant travel, people can visit Disney World on a long weekend. Now those are Rides with a capital “R”! Not to mention the two giant amusement parks in Southern Ontario (Wonderland and Marineland) with amazing and very safe rides. Okay, fine. The CNE can no longer claim to have the best rides in Canada although they are pretty darned good rides and they only come round once a year and are just a bus ride away.

So the Big Question Is “Why Go to the EX?”

The CNE has had to come up with dozens of other ways to attract people. In 2008 this includes a thrilling nightly performance by a troupe called Jump Jet, that mixes fire, acrobats and special effects. There is also an Aerialist & Equestrian Show, where daredevil aerialists and magnificent horses perform to original music plus world famous illusionists, escape artists and more.

Over the final few days of the fair you can enjoy the RCMP Musical Ride as well as a real rodeo with bucking broncos, bull riding and over 200 cowboys and cowgirls. Plus the best possible view of the Canadian International Air Show.

Among this year’s exciting displays, you can see the magnificent Quilt of Belonging. With 263 squares representing 71 Aboriginal groups and 192 immigrant nationalities found in Canada, the quilt is a lasting testimony to Canada’s multicultural heritage and identity.

Other events sure to interest someone in your family include:

  • the CNE Garden Show – home to the largest flower and vegetable growing competition in Canada;
  • a performance by the popular Canadian band The Trews;
  • a children’s midway, petting zoo, family puppet parade and backyard circus and ongoing daily entertainment at Kids’World – Centennial Park;
  • the Rising Star Talent Competition with auditions at major shopping malls including Brampton Shoppers World, Dufferin Mall, and Pickering Town Centre;
  • a 100th anniversary celebration of Anne of Green Gables.

And of course…there’s the Food Building – which is basically a food-court the size of a cricket field, with an astonishing and delicious array of fast foods for every imaginable taste and from dozens of cultures. Finding space for three or more people to sit down and eat together is a bit like finding a parking spot at a shopping mall before Christmas, except that in the Food Building, you can leave one person to stand in line while the other three walk up and down the aisles until a space opens up. One of the most common sights in this facility are the many people waving their arms around shouting “over here!”

The CNE runs for 18 days – from August 15 to Labour Day Monday, September 1, 2008. Advance tickets will be sold through CNE’s exclusive retail partner Shopper’s Drug Mart and are also available online. For complete details, updates on tickets, attractions and special events visit www.theex.com. All events are free with admission to the CNE. The fair is open 10:00 a.m. to midnight, buildings 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

One of the CNE’s other main selling points is price. With a Magic Pass, you can get admission and unlimited rides for $31 per person. A Fun Pass to get into the fairgrounds is $14 for adults and $10 for kids and seniors ($42 for a four person family pass). Ride tickets can be purchased separately if you only want to try a few. But if you need to try them all, a Magic Pass may be more economical.