Labour Day signals the end of summer in the minds of many, and the annual return of the Canadian National Exhibition triggers thoughts of autumn’s imminence. Taking in the CNE on its closing, Labour Day weekend, seemed like the perfect way to pack in one more quintessential Toronto experience before we draw this season to a close. Visiting at night allowed the full saturation of the visual explosion that is the Ex to take centre stage.
Arriving in the games area, it’s an onslaught of sights that invite the optimistic to try their luck at over 125 booths. Massive prizes, from giant plush bananas to pocket bikes, hang in layered rows. Triumphant flags and neon depictions of cotton candy compete to drag your attention away from murals that are unrepentant in their fragile connections to reality. A barrage of colours, flashing lights, and cheerful typography position the experience as a giant celebration, and no matter how old you are, you’re a kid at this party.
Something happens when everyone is allowed to forego normalcy and chase after fun for a night; we become more fun ourselves. There’s a pervasive enthusiasm and joy that makes the second half of this visual experience an exhibition of people. Strangers cheer each other on as they attempt to ring the bell in the Strong Man sledge hammer game. Riders at the highest peak of the midway rides put on shows for the spectators on the ground. Friends muster their way through mirror mazes and rotating rooms in the fun houses with little concern for maintaining composure.
For a city with a reputation for being cold (at least according to goading marketers), it’s enough to make you thoroughly enjoy a warm late summer night in the company of some proportionately warm people.
The CNE’s final day for 2009 is today.
All photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.