The month of August always brings thoughts of a family tradition started by my Father in 1966.
That is when we would make our annual visit to the Canadian National Exhibition, or more commonly known to the people of Toronto as the C.N.E.
On the last day of school in late June, every child would be given a free children’s pass to this annual event.
Father was never one to let something free pass him by.
Set in the middle of downtown Toronto and bordering on Lake Ontario, the C.N.E. covers 192 acres of ground filled with a stadium, bandshell, coliseum, midway, fountains, picnic areas and much more.
Using Toronto’s public transportation, Father and I always went on the first Saturday after the grand opening. This usually coincided with the annual grand Scottish Tattoo parades where the sounds of bagpipes could be heard at every turn.
My Father didn’t care for bagpipes, and I remember how he would cover his ears and whisk me off to a quieter venue, a building perhaps, one of the many which would showcase countries from around the world, cars, or home shows.
The food building was a grand concourse featuring kiosks of cuisine from all over the world. I was partial to the corn dogs, while Father always contented himself with a cardboard bowl of spaghetti which cost only twenty-five cents.
Throughout the course of the day we collected free magazines, brochures, samples and souvenirs. By the time we left at the end of the day we would usually have three full bags of treasure to take home. I carried one while Father carried two.
I was allowed to purchase one souvenir of choice which was usually a punching ball, or an invisible dog leash.
The last time that I went to the C.N.E. with my Father was in the early 1990’s.
We brought my two young daughters to share the experience with us.
What I remember the most about that day was when we went to the bandshell where their was a rock and roll revival being held hosted by Bowser from the group SHA-NA-NA. We found a patch of grass to stand and watch. While the Platters were on stage singing their hit UNDER THE BOARDWALK, my daughters and I twirled and danced to the music.
Those were very happy moments.
In 1969, while my Father was away on business, my Grandparents took me for my annual pilgrimage to the C.N.E.
All these years later, it’s hard for me to decide which memories of that day are dearest to me.
Is it the memories of going on the Ferris wheel with my Grandmother?
She handled my rocking the carriage very well. I could be a handful at times.
Shortly after that, as I took another turn on the Ferris wheel alone, she won me an orange stuffed teddy bear. To this day, I think she paid off the carnie just so that she could see the joy on my face as she presented me with a new toy. I named the bear Godfrey.
We were very fortunate that day as our visit to the C.N.E. coincided with the visit of Canada’s current Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was there for a cinematic premiere at the Queen Elizabeth building.
My Grandmother and I stood less than ten feet from him as he stood for photographs and welcoming speeches.
At one point, he turned his head left, looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
Now, my Grandmother has always been of the opinion that the Prime Minister was smiling at her and not me.
Indeed, every time that we found ourselves together in the following thirty-five years we would lovingly spar with each other over this:
“Trudeau was laughing at me…” she’s say.
“No, he was laughing at me…” I’d respond.
Then we would end the discussion by laughing at ourselves.
One of the last times that I visited the C.N.E. Was in 2005, seven months after my Father had passed away. I brought my two daughters and a good friend.
We made new memories as we walked our way through trapeze artists, upside down rides, tall cups of lemonade, tall ships, log flumes, ice cream, all behind the beautiful backdrop of the Toronto skyline.
It was good to be reacquainted with one of my childhood joys and be able to set aside my lingering grief.
Thank you C.N.E. for those new memories.
May there be many more.