I didn’t grow up in Toronto so I don’t have any childhood memories of The Ex. My Dad never put me on the Double Looper; my Mom never took me to the horse shows. I come from Southwestern Ontario, so my end of summer ritual was the Ridgetown Fair and it was similar to The Ex (as I know it now) in many respects. There were horses and agricultural displays, there was a midway and there was the occasional ridiculous stunt. (My favourite were the “Hell Drivers”, a travelling demolition derby team.) It was all quaint and small and the rides were the same year after year; but it made sense to me. Here you have a local fair, sponsored by local people, to show off the local agricultural talent. One would imagine that in today’s era of organic this and free range that, an event that put on a huge, old-fashioned kind of Fair could do pretty well. And it probably could. But that’s not what happened to the Ridgetown Fair. They kept bringing in the same rides, the same beat-up Hell Drivers and the same 4-H shows and after 140 years, the Ridgetown Fair closed its gates for good.
The Canadian National Exhibition has a similarly proud past and much like the fair of my youth, its present bares little to no resemblance. That being said, I’ve lived in Toronto for about 13 years now and I visit the Ex every August. There’s some fun to be had in the crappy rides, sub-par corn dogs, the increasingly chain ridden Food Building and the inevitable wash-out 80’s band playing in the Bandshell. But I’m compelled to admit that I never leave the Ex feeling satisfied. And I can’t believe it’s just me feeling that way. I don’t know if it’s the light wallet, the developing indigestion or the slight ringing in my ears, but even as a much younger man the whole experience seemed a bit hollow. Perhaps it’s the mediocrity of the whole thing that leaves me wanting.