The Canadian National Exhibition. The CNE. The Ex. No matter what you call it, if you grew up anywhere near Toronto, it was likely a part of your childhood. If you are an adult of a certain age (*ahem*), you probably remember that end of year report cards came with a free pass to The Ex (the real reason to open that dreaded envelope). AND if you managed not to lose your free pass during summer vacation (thanks mom!), The Ex was something to look forward to, a last hurrah before summer's end and back to school. Now that I'm all grown-up, summer's end no longer means a return to school, but it always means a return to The Ex.
There is an almost overwhelming amount t.o. see and t.o. do (ha! see what I did there?) at The Ex. For some, it's all about the midway. The Ex has everything from classic rides like the Merry-Go-Round, Tilt-A-Whirl (my personal fav.) and Ferris Wheel to more recent innovations in thrill-seeking, designed to make your insides turn to mush just by watching OTHER people ride. It is this humble rider's opinion that too many amusement parks these days put all the emphasis on roller coasters, which are cool, but they don't give you the same slow stomach drop of the Pharaoh's Fury (pictured mid-swing above). If you disagree, never fear! The Ex boasts two small roller coasters in its midway collection, as well as an assortment of tame rides for weaker stomachs. A recent addition to The Ex is a zip line that allows the truly fearless to glide overhead the crowds while enjoying what is surely a unique viewpoint of the grounds. If you have the opportunity, plan a walk through the midway at night when it's all lit up with colourful lights. I can actually see it from my balcony, which is a lovely treat.
No midway is complete without a selection of carnival games, designed to frustrate and reward you (though probably not in equal amounts). Admittedly, this is not the main draw of The Ex for me, but I'm probably biased due to the fact that once upon a time I had a summer job working the games corridor of the midway, a rite of passage for countless GTA teens. That being said, I do have an odd affinity for balloon darts (I bet you didn't know such a condition exists!) and I always stop for a quick game while at The Ex. I have a very strict games budget so I didn't work my way up to one of those gigantic stuffed animals you see being lugged around the midway, but I did end up with a teeny stuffed dalmatian so I'm satisfied.
And then there's the Food Building. When I was a child at The Ex, I remember the Food Building as having no real consequence or appeal. Oh my how the times have changed. The Food Building is now regarded by many visitors to The Ex (myself included) as an attraction within an attraction, almost worthy of its own visit! Talk about overwhelming... it is a gastronomical extravaganza, the likes of which are rarely seen outside its walls. Bring an empty stomach and an open mind. Each year pre-opening, the media is abuzz about what new and exciting concoctions are being offered to eager diners. I managed to sample a variety of these bizarre takes on carnival foods, including the Thanksgiving waffle (verdict: it worked surprisingly well), cocoa-infused fried chicken (verdict: a milder flavour than I was expecting), butter coffee (verdict: shame-inducing), apple-brie filled dessert ravioli (verdict: not dessert-y enough) and s'more bao (verdict: best idea). If adventures in food isn't your thing, there is classic fair fare at every turn, from cotton candy to corn dogs. There's a reason that free samples of antacids were being handed out in the Food Building!
If you've consumed too much food to get back on a spinning ride, there are plenty of indoor and stationary sights to take in at The Ex. A personal highlight was the President's Choice SuperDogs show, being held in Ricoh Coliseum. If you've never had the opportunity to delight in this show, you really should go out of your way to see it. It might be aimed at a slightly younger audience (*ahem*), but I have seen the SuperDogs several times and at the risk of sounding like the lamest person alive, this particular disco-themed version of their show is their best yet. OH C'MON! It's dogs performing tricks, running obstacle courses and high jumping! Just try to sit there without a dopey smile on your face, I dare you. FUN FOR ALL AGES GUYS.
If you're too grown-up to enjoy the SuperDogs (PSHT!) then there are plenty of activities geared more towards adults. Craft and artisan vendors, live demonstrations, horticultural and agricultural exhibits, music concerts, an international marketplace (bought myself a beautiful hand-embroidered scarf made in Indonesia), an on-site casino, the famous(ly loud) air show... there are so many things happening at The Ex that people who have been attending for years can still stumble upon things that make them exclaim "Oh! I didn't know they had ___ here." More than anything, I think that's what keeps me coming back year after year. No two visits are exactly alike. Next year I'll go on a ride I was too chicken to try this year, I'll eat food that hasn't been created yet and I'll buy a hand-made accessory from a country I have not had opportunity to visit.
I'm already looking forward to it!
The Canadian National Exhibition runs until September 1st, ticket information can be found here.