Fall Fair Memories

It’s that time of year again – the time for fall fairs, the traditional time to celebrate agriculture and the harvest, along with innovations in manufacturing and technology. The oldest of these fairs in Canada is the Canadian National Exhibition, or CNE, held each year since 1879 in Toronto, Ontario during the last two weeks of August and including the Labour Day weekend. The photo below from http://commons.wikimedia.org shows the Princes’ Gates to the 192 acre Toronto lakefront property that annually hosts the fair, in 2003.

My maternal grandfather, J. (John) Graham O’Neill often shared stories with me about his parent’s struggles in attending the ‘Ex’ with him when he was a child due to his carriage wheels often becoming stuck in the mud of the unpaved fair grounds in the late 19th century.

My own memories range from tolerating my parents’ desire to wander through the exhibits of the latest appliances and household conveniences when I knew that the real fun was to be found on the midway to impressing a teenage date by attending a 1975 concert by her favourite ‘group’, only to blow it by admitting that I wasn’t at all familiar with any of the group’s music. The group was Chicago. I’m familiar with their music now!

My most memorable ‘Ex’ recollection however, was the coming of age involved in being allowed to attend the fair for the first time on my own. The year was 1968 and the featured attraction for my friends and I was called “Time Being.” An entire building had been transformed into a “psychedelic total environment discotheque” experience, complete with a full slate of ’60’s rock groups providing live performances. A band would play a concert in the afternoon and another band would play an evening concert. The evening concert typically involved a more well known group.

The day that my friends and I attended ‘on our own,’ a little known group named “Raja” performed in the afternoon. We knew nothing of the group at the time and still can offer little by way of any song titles but the group’s drummer used tympani sticks rather than standard drum sticks and that novelty alone made them interesting and worth watching to a group of 13 year old boys.

The evening performance was what we were excited about because “The American Breed” were scheduled to perform and we just had to see them. At 8:00 p.m., we were front and centre, standing in a sea of teenagers as the group played their two hour concert that included their biggest hit “Bend Me, Shape Me.” With the concert over, it was time to hastily make our way to the commuter train ride home so as to not exceed any curfew. Unfortunately, the midway was placed as an obstacle between the concert building and the train station. One last ride, or two, couldn’t possibly hurt. And the rides didn’t hurt – they were fun, as always. What hurt was the glares from parents who found us walking home at about 1:00 a.m. as they drove through our neighbourhood looking for us.

I don’t recall being allowed to go to the ‘Ex’ again ‘on my own’ until possibly that fateful date in 1975. Despite not knowing any of the music performed by her favourite group, my date married me two years later anyways!

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