The End and The Beginning

Labour Day weekend 2020 is history. This iconic end-of-summer holiday is usually filled with back-to-school preparations, family BBQ’s, and the EX. But not this year.

Preparations for the upcoming school year have been difficult because of so many last-minute changes and unclear directions. Parents have been left adrift, not sure how to proceed. Should the kids stay at home and learn online, or go back to their schools and learn in person? The back-to-school shopping has been trickier too. In addition to a first-day outfit, there has to be a suitable mask. “I want Spiderman on mine!” “I want unicorns on mine!” And everyone must bring their own pencils, erasers, and other classroom supplies that can’t be shared. Parents, who have spent 5 years or more encouraging their children to give to others, are now saying “Don’t Share!”

Those family gatherings for a last summer BBQ looked very different this year. No more than the 10 people in your bubble. But if your family is 11 or 12, did you leave somebody out? What if your favourite grocery store was sold out of the burgers that your family loves? How many other stores could you safely visit? What if it rained and you couldn’t eat outside? How fast could you clean out the garage and set up some folding tables and chairs?

And the EX: For 141 years families have been putting on their sunglasses and heading to the CNE to mark the end of summer. Most of us remember visits when we were kids. My family lived in St. Catharines back then and we had to wake up really early to make the drive along the QEW in order to get a parking spot close to the fairgrounds. I remember being wide awake most of the night before, thinking of all the fun waiting for us at the EX.

My favourite building was the Food Building, where lots of free samples were available. Often we’d choose a line not knowing what was being offered. One time I waited almost 20 minutes for a paper cup filled with some cold peas. I almost cried! Another favourite activity was trying to get Dad to win us a big, I mean BIG, stuffed animal. He worked very hard at getting the ring on the post, or the ball in the cup, but often we ended up with a tiny plastic car or a small box of crayons. Then we unappreciative kids would berate him for failing us, even though that was the Only Dad thing he ever failed.

The CNE has changed a lot since then. The original purpose of the EX – to showcase new innovative products – has been taken over by other fairs like the Home Show or the Boat Show. But some things are the same. The midway is still really the centre of the fair, with lots of big stuffed animals and Dads trying to show off. Last year we took our grandson Ben, and he spent over half an hour waiting in the hot sun for a chance to have his picture taken with Chase from Paw Patrol. Then we visited the Food Building where, instead of free cold peas, we found expensive bacon-wrapped chocolate bars, Bloomin’ Onions, and other heart-stopping treats. This year none of that: no midway challenges, no garbage delights, not even any air show.

Despite all the restrictions, closures, and difficult choices, one thing we have discovered during this pandemic is that we are resilient and flexible. We make do. And we did!

Now we look forward to fall, with its exciting Argos football games – oops, not. And big family Thanksgiving dinners – oh maybe not that either. Bu we Do have the gorgeous fall colours, and accessible walking trails all across the city. We have new learning opportunities online with universities, theatres, and museums. And we have each other – even at a distance. Stay safe, and Happy Fall!


4 thoughts on “The End and The Beginning

  1. Thanks for the memories so vividly depicted in your wonderful piece, Sue.

    Yes indeed, the “Exhibition” as my family called it, was an annual ritual. We all loved the Food Building, of course! And the International Building. And the rides! Oh the rides! My favourite was The Rotor where you spun until you stuck to the wall and the floor fell away. My brother liked The Wild Mouse, where you thought you were about to fly off into space. My parents took us, and then had a separate adult outing of their own.

    Here is a link to pictures, some before our time.


  2. Sob…I will miss the ex also as I have fond memories. The Fall is a perfect time for hiking. Let,s go to Crawford Lake and see the Indian Village….cheers Ruth


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