As a kid growing up in a much quieter Toronto, the approach of the annual Canadian National Exhibition prompted two emotions.
The first was anticipation (remember the free food samples, playing with the adding machines and do-it-yourself paper school book covers) and the second was a sense of impending anxiety since what followed each fair was a return to school.
Now I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy my stint in public school — first a few years at Palmerston near Honest Ed’s place at Bathurst and Bloor Sts., then a few more at John Fisher further afield in north Toronto — but I was pretty sure back then making popcorn at Pat Tobin’s Alhambra Theatre or playing ball hockey on the little side street we lived on was a much better use of my time. Oh, except for some pleasant discussions with Miss Staples (who had a little blue Austin car and came back to John Fisher one fall with a new name, Mrs. Thompson, because, as I found out later, she got married) and a towering Mr. Garton. Both were, as I recall, neat teachers without first names.
For this youngster, and admitted streetcar buff (I even made my own streetcars out of Dinky Toys, match sticks, string and Plasticine, a modeling medium consisting of calcium salts, petroleum jelly and aliphatic acids …Yikes! Who knew?), the best way to get to the CNE was to ride the Bathurst streetcar into the Eastern Entrance just north of the Princes’ Gates — a structure that was renamed from its original Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gate title to one that honoured Edward, the Prince of Wales, and his brother Prince George, the Duke of Kent, who accompanied him on his 1927 visit to Canada.
The trip high over the railway tracks south of Front St. with the image of the rides and buildings off to the west flashing through the steel girders of the old Bathurst St. bridge was always a thrill.
Years later I traversed that same bridge on my way to my job as the CNE’s new Special Projects and Centennial Manager (thanks Dave Garrick). My first year in that position I saw the Spanish Pavilion (aka the 1907 Transportation Building) burn to the ground as well as the TTC go out on strike. We all thought CNE attendance would plummet, but it didn’t. People loved the EX and got there any way they could.
The next year city officials announced that work on rebuilding the old Bathurst St. bridge would “derail” the most important way people got to the 20-day fair. The city didn’t go ahead with the project and the attendance soared.
The announcement of plans to rebuild that old bridge seemed to come up almost every year and frequently it happened just a few months before the CNE announced its own list of attractions and Grandstand and Bandshell programs. Every year staff shuddered. If the bridge project really came to pass what effect would that massive project have on the fair’s attendance?
This year there’s an interesting twist to the Bathurst bridge versus CNE situation. Although both the bridge rehabilitation and TTC track replacement will see Bathurst St. from Front St. to Fort York Blvd. closed for eight months, there will be no CNE to be interrupted.
The fair’s cancellation is sad to be true, but at least that old bridge didn’t win out.
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