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then & now: cne midway chills & thrills

August 24
midway cne - saf affect

Midway Now

As all Torontonians know, each year the running of the Canadian National Exhibition (or the CNE or The Ex) ushers in the unofficial end of summer. Sad as that is and despite its longevity in a world with more stimulus per minute than one can ever need (happening yearly since 1879), The Ex still offers both low and high-tech, kitsch and otherwise, memory-making chills and thrills, of which the Midway is the hub.

classic ex - vintage toronto

Midway Then – Vintage Toronto

I admit nowadays, with my motion-sickness prone stomach, I get more of a kick out of watching others experience the fun of the various rides. But having made a visit to the CNE a yearly tradition for much of my childhood and my young adulthood, the Midway will always  provide me with some fond and nostalgic memories of key moments as a child as well.

As a young child I rode my first (and one of my last) roller coasters at The Ex.  The Flyer was a permanent, wooden roller coaster constructed in 1953 and dismantled in the early ’90s. I still vividly remember that ride with my two brothers in one car, my dad and I in another.

The Flyer - CNE Archives

Flyer – CNE Archives

And I distinctly remember stating as we climbed up the first incline, despite my nervousness before even getting on the ride, ‘this isn’t so bad’. I also distinctly remember screaming in fear, at the top of my lungs, as we plunged the downward slope.

The Flyer - Vintage Toronto

Flyer – Vintage Toronto

The Derby Racer CNE - Steve Obczuk

Derby Racer – Steve Obczuk

I did have a couple of favourite rides as a child, however, including the beloved Derby. From the 1950s (and again dismantled in the ’90s), the Derby Racer was a semi-enclosed carousel that operated at much faster than standard carousel speeds. I was sad the year they removed that ride, for with my now severe allergy to horses, it’s the closest I’ll get to the feeling of riding a thoroughbred. 🙂

Another favourite ride which still graces the Midway is the Polar Express. I stopped by for a lingering view the other day on this year’s visit to the fair, to watch it speed ever faster, round and round counterclockwise, to the perennially loud music and with the familiar operator’s cry ‘do you want to go faster?!?’.

polar express cne - saf affect

polar express cne starting - saf affect

The siren that follows provokes a Pavlovian response in me even as an observer, tensing up at the thrill and wanting to grab hold in fear of flying away with the centrifugal force. That thought also brought a bit of a tear to my eye as I fondly remembered that on this ride my dad would always convince me to sit on the outside of the car, with me taking the brunt of his full body weight and then some. And he always smiled large, while I was laughing in pure enjoyment despite being squashed.

The Polar Express Then - Huffington Post

Polar Express Then – Huffington Post

polar express cne going fast - saf affect

Polar Express Now

The Midway had and still has that affect on me.  I know I’m not alone in my nostalgia for the chills and thrills. What are your memories?

There’s still lots of time to create more memories from 2013. The CNE runs until Labour Day.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24 7:59 am

    As a kid I loved the haunted and fun houses and now, I get great joy watching my kids run in and out of them with great big smiles on their faces laughing away as only a child who is living in the moment can do! Great article.

  2. Dave. permalink
    November 6 7:32 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been looking for YEARS for pics and info on the Derby Racer ride! (I had no idea what it was called.) No one seems to remember it. I remember in 1979, being just old/tall enough to ride this and holding on for dear life as it went a lot faster than a standard Merry-go-round!

    • November 7 10:13 am

      Truly the Derby is my favourite ride of all time – fond memories, a kindred spirit I see! Thanks for commenting.

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