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Alfie Phillips

Toronto, Thursday, 1 September 2005

These things that have happened in my life with the show, some of them I’ve documented and some of them I remember. Some of them are very interesting and it all started here, when I was, probably, 12 or 13 and used to hang around the water show. I used to go swimming between the acts and then he got me running the pop stand. Eventually, the water show had run it’s course, and it was replaced by a reptile show. The water show came back later, but my dad wasn’t involved with it, it was John Gilbert, a radio announcer from CHUM. He used to work the front of the show as an announcer when he was very young and he always had a passion to bring it back. And he did, in the early ’70s but it only lasted a couple of years.

That’s where I met Patty Conklin, was here, when I was 12, 13. Patty and my dad were good friends. Patty used to come to my house and play cards with my dad, before the Exhibition opened. He was always here in town and he would come up there a few evenings before the Ex opened. Patty used to love to play bridge. My dad was a good card player, too, and my mother, so they had a good time. So he used to come and visit when I was very young.

I guess it was in ’53, Patty asked me if I wanted to run a game. I said, sure, so I was running a game for him in the Silver Dollar building. It housed about 20 games. I was involved with summer camp, Camp Pinecrest, a YMCA camp, as a counsellor. I was involved with the water program because I was a swimmer; I wasn’t a diver, my father was a diver. Then I’d come down here and work the Exhibition, and go back to school with a little money in my pocket. So it worked out very well. They don’t pay you very well at the YMCA camp, but it was a good place to be for a kid who was 15 or 16. Spending your time up there in Muskoka, which is a wonderful place to be in the summer, and then come here for three weeks and make some money. It worked out very well for a number of years.

Then, it started to expand unto itself. When I was 21 I got a job as a manager in a curling club that had just opened. I was more of a curling instructor; they didn’t have pros then. So I used to work there in the winter and come and work for Conklin in the summer. Then we got involved in the bingo at Crystal Beach. Conklin also had the kiddieland and a couple of major rides in that park. Patty used to come down there and visit, once a week. The Hall brothers ran it. They were there when I was there and there were there when I left. Then they sold it and now it’s a housing development. We were involved with the Halls for a long time. That would take up most of my summer then I’d come here to the Exhibition. We normally opened on May 24th, the holiday weekend and carried on until Labour Day. Those were fun summers, when you’re young. We didn’t have any games, we just had the bingo. We had I-Got-It for a few years because bingo wasn’t legal at that time. When bingo became legal, we got a licence and switched back for a number of years. I was still running the curling rink at the same time.

In ’69, Jim Conklin hired me. He had been taking over the game operations before then. He hired me full time in ’69 and I started in the office in the Horse Palace. For 30 years we had that office, ’69 to ’99. We always used it during the Ex, but that was the only time we used it until ’69. During the ’70s, we had as many as a dozen people working in that office. Jim was expanding the company and he had design people, a photographer and marketing people, and they were all working out of that office. Colin Forbes and Sheila McKinnon both were in marketing. Freddie Corrigan was around at that time. Doug Hall was the photographer and Mo Kawasoe was design. They all came over from the office on Front Street. They all wound up in the Horse Palace.

Then we were just playing Ontario and the CNE, we didn’t play outside the province until 1976 when we went west. Before then, Jim was expanding in the parks. He had an operation in Lake Ontario Park in Kingston, one in Wasaga Beach. We got involved in Sports World in Kitchener and in Hemmingsford. We were still in Belmont Park in Montreal. Patty had got involved in Belmont. Harry Shore was the guy down there for many years. Then Harry went to Bob-Lo Island and Frank Eastman took over Belmont Park for a number of years, running it for Conklin. The Gavreau family stilled owned the park, but eventually it closed, I can’t tell you the year. La Ronde was the new park and it kind of buried Belmont.

We were in Hemmingsford for a while too, not many years, but we were down there with some rides. We had an arcade down there. One day in Hemmingsford we had to get the arcade ready for the season and the guy from the park came around and said, “You better stay inside, the tigers are loose.” So we stayed inside. That made the headlines in the Montreal Star: “Tigers Loose in Hemmingsford.” I wondered to myself if they did that every year just to get the season started. We got on the front page of the Montreal Star. I thought it was quite a ploy, if they were doing that intentionally; I never knew for sure.

Patty died in ’70 and Jim took over and tried to do many things, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. He never stopped trying. He’s still messing around today. He was in here this morning. He’s an early riser and he usually gets here before anybody’s here. Consequently he never sees anybody and then he leaves. This morning he happened to hang around long enough to see me. It was nice to see him. I don’t see him that often anymore. He’s still involved with the Ontario shows and his little unit that he looks after himself, Supershows. That’s just kind of a hobby to keep him busy. He still enjoys tinkering around. He looks in pretty good shape for a man his age. He’s 72, I guess, and he looks very good. He’s got some years left.

I was going out on the road in the ’60s. After the CNE, I used to play some of the fall fairs, Renfrew, Kingston, Port Hope, Lindsay, Markham and Simcoe. The route has changed a little bit now, but that was the route then. Lindsay, Markham and Simcoe as the three last spots haven’t changed. Kingston moved into the summer for a while, then moved back to the fall. Renfrew is still on at the same time, right after the CNE. I did that for a number of years.

My first exposure to the road was going out of here to play London. That was back in the ’60s. That was quite a jump out of here, we had one day till opening there. We didn’t take everything, but we took a lot of stuff from here down there. It was a very difficult jump to get open in time. Then of course we lost it when it became an independent midway.

They’ve been talking about giving the contract to a show for a number of years. Jim and Barry Jamieson have been down there a few times, to talk to Gary McRae and see if there’s an opportunity for us to get involved again. It might happen. London is very fortunate to have a casino on the grounds and they’re awash in cash. They’re doing well because of the casino and its taken away some of the focus that they used to have on the fair. The fair’s not the big thing anymore. They get a lot of money from a very small casino. The casino is on the Association’s ground, but I don’t know what their participation is, whether they even run it, but I’m sure they share in some of the profits.

It’s been casinos that have saved horse racing. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any horse racing. It’s the same everywhere I go, right across western Canada. If they didn’t have those slots, they wouldn’t have horse racing. The party would be over. It’s all gambling and the horse racing is adding a little bit of entertainment, along with the people that just want to go play the machines. There’s so much of it now. Casinos are everywhere. The government got a taste of the revenue and now they can’t do without it.

It affected us to some degree because in many cases our business is chasing the entertainment dollar just like they are, and they’re taking a bigger cut out of it. The gambling wheels have been stable for 10, 15 years. They were hurt earlier, but then it levelled off and it’s stayed kind of the same. There’s still revenue to be made on the midway with wheels. We only have four up here. They must have 20 independent wheels out there. Then they have a casino on the grounds. Gambling is well served here. Exhibition Place would love to have a casino here year round. They certainly have a building they could use for that. They don’t do anything with some of the buildings during the wintertime. They’ve been trying to market them out to private enterprise and they’ve been successful in doing that with two of them. One is for a banquet hall and the Horticultural Building is being transformed into something.

We used to have all the permanent stuff here and it’s all gone. It’s really just one big parking lot now. That’s OK. That’s what they wanted. They needed parking for the new trade show building. They’re talking about expanding that building, adding another 20,000 square feet. I’ve seen some plans for that and that’s interesting. A number of exhibitions in Canada right now are going through expansion plans. Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton; Regina just finished a new building; Saskatoon is starting to dig right now. There’s a lot of trade buildings being built in western Canada at the exhibitions.

Of course, Alberta, they get a lot help from the provincial government. They’ve got a lot of money out there and it’s all in Alberta. We played Alberta and we got a little bit of it back. But we don’t even make a dint. I think when we come through they just blink, that’s all. The province is going very well. We’re fortunate that we play three fairs in that province at this time because they’re so affluent: everybody’s working and everybody’s got money. The toughest part in Alberta is finding anybody to work. You can’t pay minimum wage or you won’t get anybody to work. You’ve got to start at ten bucks an hour. We still have to hire people in each city and we have to pay the going rate to get them. Every city we play we have to hire ticket sellers, game operators and some food people and some ride people. It just costs a little more money to get them. You don’t mind when you’re playing those kind of dates. Alberta is a wonderful place right now. I think Ralph Klein is going to go out in 2007 and he’s going to say, “My gift to you, Albertans, is we just eliminated the property tax.” He might do that.

It’s an exciting province, although the weather is a little rocky in the winter. There’s a wonderful golf facility in Kananaskis where we play. I’m going up there this month and taking a group of boys from the western fair boards. We’re going there for a few days to play golf. It’s about a half an hour from Canmore. There are two mountains there, Mount Kidd and Mount Lorette. They’ve got two golf courses set in that valley with the Kananaskis River running through it. It’s a beautiful setting. There’s a provincial park, so it will always be what you see. That place is busy all the time. Albertans get a break on the price. From when they open in May to when they close at the first week of October, they’re booked solid. It’s one of my favourite places to play golf.

Jack Kenneth was the director of security for the show from 1975 to ’80. He had been with the Toronto police for 35 years up to 1968. In 1976, Jack and I visited the police departments in the western cities prior to our first season out there. Our last city was Regina, where we attended a meeting at the Regina police station. When we arrived, we were confronted by a gathering of 17 people, which included the chief of police and the crown prosecutor. I’ll never forget the crown prosecutor: he was standing in the middle of the room holding a copy of the Criminal Code.

Barry was out west in ’80 and ’81. He wanted the corners for the rides. There used to be quite a battle for them. He wanted to put the ticket boxes on the corners too. Sometimes when he did that it interfered with some of the game operators. Sometimes we had a battle trying to get them moved and there were creative methods used to try moving them. In Calgary, we had a problem with one ticket box sitting right where we didn’t want it to sit. He chained it down so we couldn’t move it. So we put a manikin in there with a cowboy hat and chained it shut. Nobody noticed it for about two hours. We saw a lot of people go up to the box, look in and then walk away. Jamieson never noticed it for two hours. It solved our problem for a period of time. He got even by filling the fishpond with laundry detergent. When they opened it up the next morning and started the pumps, man, the bubbles were up about six feet high. They were all over.

We did have some moments out there. I remember him and I working in a hamburger stand for a few hours too. We figured we’d jack up the sales a little bit. The hamburgers were full of garlic, so the poor guy who took a bite out of one had to get a drink. So the drink sales went up. We had some fun. Barry’s a lot of fun. He loves the business. He reminds me of Patty in a way. Patty didn’t have any other interests besides the business, and Barry’s like that too. He spends his whole time thinking and scheming and planning about the business. We had a good two years with him out west. I was overseeing the games and Barry was overseeing the rides, so that’s where we clashed. In the nature of the different locations we played and where stuff was to be located. It never turned nasty or anything; it was always friendly competition, each one trying to outdo the other.

Ray Coffing was out there, too, just for a little while. He was around Ontario for a number of years too. His son Tommy was out west after him. Frank Conklin was there when he was a kid. He was out there the first year with the Enterprise ride in ’76.

Colin Forbes went west. He was our director of marketing for Ontario and he expanded that to western Canada. He left us in ’78 or ’79 to go to Northlands in Edmonton and become the assistant general manager there. He eventually became the manager. He was manager there for about five or six years, then he retired. He was retired for two or three years, then he died of lung cancer. He had a big hand in us going west because he got to be very good friends with Bill Pratt, who was the general manager at Calgary. Calgary is the biggest date, so they have a lot of weight when it comes to awarding the contract for the four dates. Bill Pratt and Colin got along well. Bill knew Colin before in some way, and then he was involved when the bidding was going on. They became very good friends after that.

Sheila McKinnon was around then too. She took over the marketing in western Canada after Colin left. That was the first time I ever saw a woman in that position. They learned to accept her and she got along very well. She’s a nice lady, so it wasn’t hard for her. It was difficult for the boards to accept her in the beginning, but it didn’t take long. She did a nice job. She married the general manager of the State Fair of Texas, guy by the name of Wayne Gallagher. They had about ten years together before he died. He had lung cancer too. He left Dallas and became the manager of the New York State Fair in Syracuse. He was there for the last five years of his working time and about two years after that he passed away. In their last two years together they were living in Sheila’s place. She had a place in Ellicottville, New York, which is a ski area. Sheila still lives there. She’s doing some work now for Jim, marketing.

Sometimes it’s a small world; other times, it’s very big. People come back to the show over the years, and a lot of them have never left. It’s a family business. I don’t know that it’s much different from any other family show. The family runs the show, but they have some regular employees who have been loyal to them for a long time. It seems to be a good relationship. It’s not an easy business to work in. Especially with today’s youth, it’s not attractive to them and I can understand why; the hours that you have to put in and the type of work that it is. It’s a computer world now. But this hasn’t changed very much. The length of time that you have to work hasn’t changed. Our presentation has changed over the years.

This western A circuit that we just finished is probably the most lucrative for that time of the year because there’s no other major fairs in North America in June and July. It has that going for it, but it is a brutal run. Farrow Shows has 20 rides that joined us in Brandon and they learned some things over the route. You can’t tell anybody what it is, you have to go through it. When you tell them, they don’t believe you. You go do it once, and then they understand. I don’t know that there’s any route like it. I’m sure there are many routes that are difficult and gruelling, but I don’t think there’s another route where you’re so busy playing very strong fairs back to back. They drain you and then you got to move it and set it up quick and that drains you. You have to do that three times in a very short period of time. That’s what drives you into the ground. Calgary takes it out of you and then the rest of them just drive you into the ground. By the time you get here, you’re done and then the CNE is 18 days. There are guys here who are numb now, just numb; just wondering when it’s ever going to go away. It’s a tough job for everybody.

Now we have the electronic ticketing system. That’s been going on for five or six years. Scooter, Greg Korek, has been involved since day one and it dominates his life. He’s been involved with that on every level and it swallows him. You seem to be experimenting with new equipment and trying to make it better all the time, and it is getting better. It has been better every year. It’s working very well here. It had fewer bloops this year than last year. But it’s been a tough five years. It’s going to go. They’re going to try some new software in Springfield. If that works better, then they can start messing a little bit with the pricing, which has been a bit of a problem. If you want to use it in games and food, you’re going to have to do something with the pricing.

They’re going to have work at giving the customer alternatives to buying the pay-one-price. The pay-one-price is the most popular thing and that’s what we sell in advance. In Calgary, they sell credits in advance and the pay-one-price, so the customer has a choice. You’ve got to give them a choice, then there’ll be more credits out on the midway. Calgary’s fine, but other dates there are not many credits out there for the games. People have got the wristband and they don’t have any credits. So the rides get the money from the wristbands. The games get their share, but it would be nice if there was a product that was good for both. There is, it’s the credits. You get them to use the credits and then the games can participate. We found that whenever they have the credits they’ll use them on the games and the rides. Calgary they use them on both. There were four days in Calgary where there were only the credits, no pay-one-price, so the games did very well on those days. Even the other days, when there was pay-one-price, they did OK because there was a number of credits out there that people had bought in advance in lieu of pay-one-price.

It’s interesting. I know where the goal is but I’m just not sure when we’re going to get there. The goal is to have no cash. Whether that can happen or not, I don’t know. There’s probably always going to have to be money for the gambling games. You can’t use credits on the gambling games. I guess, like Vegas, you could convert credits into chips. I think there’s always going to be some cash. The best system is where users have a choice. At any casino in Vegas, you can walk in with 100 dollars and convert it into chips or you can put the 100 dollars on a bet, if you want. They don’t break the first rule of the carnival business. The first rule of the carnival business is, if anybody wants to give you money, take it. That’s the first rule. The second rule is, try not to give it back. Those are the first two rules.

There’re other rules, too. One of them is, whenever it rains, you should take a nap. That’s a pretty good rule. It’s depressing in this business when it rains. It’s really hard when you’re working a game or a food stand, or standing on a ride and it’s raining. There’s probably not much business and you’re probably going to get wet. So it’s very uncomfortable. Then it becomes demoralizing because time drags. Another rule is, never assume anything in this business. Scooter’s got a bunch of those rules in his computer. I think there are about 15.

There’s the rule that you’ll never get it completely right. It’s like a lot layout. You come and you lay out the lot, and you’ll never get it right. The reason why is that there are too many variables. You can always walk around a lot and say, Jeez, I wish I had done that differently. It always looks different once you open. In here it was very difficult because of the fencing, the construction site rules and whatever. It made it difficult to perceive how it was going to look. But it doesn’t matter, you know in Calgary you can say the same thing. It’s never as good as you want it to be. Sometimes you do a better job than others. Thank God for that, otherwise it would be very demoralizing. You got a job that you’ve been doing all your life and you never got it right yet.

I learned lot lay out from Pat Marco. I first started with him in Ontario. Then it was Jim Conklin. I don’t know how many years I was on the dummy end of that tape with Jim 6 Conklin. It was a long time. We used to go out to western Canada and we always went in ahead, did it and then came back. Jim was laying out the lots then. I think I was on the dummy end for at least ten years. You learn a lot. He enjoyed doing it because he had a background in architecture and design. He’d see things that you wouldn’t see. Sight lines are more important even today than then. They can really make or break a layout. How the public sees it when they’re walking in. You get some ugly spots and you’ve got to try to cover them up. Really what they are is bad sight lines. You know what it looks like on the front, but you’ve got to be thinking about if anybody can see the back and if they can, how much. That’s probably the key thing with the layout, apart from the fact that you’ve got to get it all to fit. The sight lines are very important. The corner shouldn’t be sharp, they should be rounded.

If you had an empty field and there was nothing in it, you’d put all the rides in the back and all the rides in the front. But you don’t have an empty field, you have a parking lot and it has buildings on it. It also has two, three or four place where the people come in, so you have to take in those considerations. The people don’t come from one gate any more. Winnipeg they do come in one main gate, but Calgary they come in three gates. Here they come in from ten, they’re coming from everywhere. We’re right in the middle of it all anyway, so they gotta go through us to get from one side to the other. When they build new buildings, that changes your layout and that’s happening a lot in western Canada and here.

The trade centre went up and that changed the configuration of Princes’ Boulevard. Kiddieland used to be right there in the middle of the trade centre and that’s where the streetcars came in. It used to loop right into Kiddieland. Then we had the cable ride, it started in Kiddieland and then down at the other end it went right into our Bavarian Gardens. It was very suitable. A lot of people rode that ride. It was popular for getting from one end of the grounds to the other. The trade centre was the only rationale for taking out the Alpine Way. I thought they should have incorporated it into the trade centre, it would have been something very unique.

They were going to incorporate the new hotel with the Marine Museum. They were going to make that the lobby of the new hotel. They got digging around over there and I think they found some things they didn’t want to find, so that was the end of that project. There might be an ancestral burial ground and then they found some larger structures underneath and I don’t know where they came from. They have a lot of shows in the wintertime down here. It would be nice to have a hotel here. It would probably do very well. In the Coliseum building, they did a nice job with the arena. They spent a lot of money on it and then got the junior Leafs going in there. That was good. They can’t take down the Horse Palace because of its historic value. That building and the Coliseum were used as barracks during the war. They’re going to build right along in front of the Horse Palace with the expansion of the trade centre, I think.

In the ’70s the CNE was 20 days, not 18, we opened on the Wednesday. It started to lose attendance in 1980, the recession year. It started right here, we felt it first because we’re a cash business. The next two years there was quite a recession. Attendance suffered badly in ’80, ’81. Wonderland opened in ’81, so that didn’t help. The first part of the ’80s were tough here. The back part of the ’80s, it started to build up a bit. Then we got into the ’90s and there was more competition. You lose all those attractions we had here, the baseball stadium and the football stadium, the Flyer gone, the Alpine gone. All that stuff’s gone, which was part of the CNE. You lost the markets that were attracted to the stadium, the baseball team and the football team. You lost the concerts. And all that accounts for a lot of attendance: 60,000 for the Rolling Stones, 40,000 for a Blue Jays game, you’d get 100,000 people going to that stadium in one day. The recession started it, but all those things contributed to it going down over the period of a few years. We get a million whatever, now. I never know. They don’t announce it until a month after the fair and then it’s a number that they conjure up from somewhere. The gate is only half of that number, but that’s the same with every fair, not just the CNE.

The Ottawa Ex has suffered from the loss of facilities too. They have to struggle with the city and they don’t have any money, that’s a problem to move. Winnipeg moved in ’97 and it was difficult. They got some grants but they went through a lot of their own money, too. They went out to the edge of town, out to the racetrack. They used to be at Polo Park, close to downtown. We were there 22 years. It was getting a little rough down there. They used to have a free gate starting at 11 and everybody came in, the good, the bad and the ugly. Now, in this new facility, you don’t see very much of the ugly anymore. It’s a family kind of park. You have to drive there or take the bus. So you don’t see the bad element.

You don’t see them here anymore either. They left with the other two million, they don’t bother coming down. We had some tough years here. The Labour Day tradition was bad here all through the ’80s. It started in ’79. We saw swarming in ’79 and we didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, although we found out after. They were Jamaican, 90 percent of them, Jamaican youths fighting each other, but robbing us. They’d hit a stand with 50 guys and clean it out. We tried to defend ourselves, but it’s pretty hard for two guys in a stand to defend themselves against 50 people. What are you going to do? They didn’t take cash, just the merchandise. They didn’t touch the cash. They just wanted the merchandise and to create havoc. They’d get on a ride and they wouldn’t get off. Forty of them would get on the Tidal Wave and they wouldn’t get off, so we just closed the ride. So for nine or ten years they effectively closed us. We just surrendered. All the fun started when it got dark. It got dark around eight o’clock on Labour Day and by 9:30 we’d had enough, we were done. The police wouldn’t do anything. They were afraid. It was a racial thing. It was all blacks that caused the problems and the police just didn’t want any part of them. So we couldn’t do a thing.

After we started closing down early, then in ’88 or ’89, they started closing the gate at six o’clock. They used to come over the fence, so they started to patrol the fence with mounted police and stop them from jumping the fence. Once they did that we didn’t have any more problems. Those guys weren’t paying. The only day they did it was Labour Day. Labour Day was notorious for a lot of blacks here anyway. We used to get a lot of people come over from the States on Labour Day. It was kind of a tradition. So by eight o’clock, there wasn’t a white guy out there, except us. The white guy had gone home. He saw what was coming and took his family and got out of here. We were alone with those guys. My great friend, Connie Fernandez from Hawaii, he stood on the Wave Swinger watching it happen. “Alf,” he said, “we need to bring in the war elephants. We’d straighten this thing out in a minute.” George Flake, who was the head of gaming for the RCMP, he stood up there, and he said, “This would never happen in western Canada.” He was probably right, but it happened here.

I tried to rent police and they wouldn’t rent any. I was going to tip them $30,000 and they wouldn’t come in. They didn’t want any part of it. They had ’em here, just in case there was a blood bath, but they wouldn’t deploy them. The only time they would deploy them was when we surrendered and closed, then they’d deploy them to flush everybody out. That’s when they brought out the horses. The guy I wouldn’t want to be during that was the streetcar driver. He’s got a streetcar full of blacks and they don’t want to pay, oh man, it would have been the worst job. They used to create havoc up town when they got off the streetcars, breaking windows, especially on the streetcar runs. I don’t think it was a plan. You’d get about 20 bad ones come and they’d stir up whoever wants to be stirred up. You get 15 guys running, and then there’s 30, and all of a sudden it’s 100 and half of them don’t know why they’re running. That’s what swarming is. There’s only a few guys that start it. It was an interesting time, not a time to look forward to. I had three boys working out there at that time, on the front lines. They were all working in games, so they were targets.

Now the city is going in the toilet. All you’ve got to do is read the paper every day. They’re killing each other. Most of them are black or Asian, in the north, east and west of the city. Not so much downtown. Downtown you get some problems in the after hour clubs, but most of the stuff’s happening up in Downsview. It’s not pretty. I grew up here and have been here all my life, and it’s turned a little ugly, this city. Now I’m downtown. I used to live in the suburbs, but it’s not safe there anymore. All the condos are being built right downtown. People are not afraid to move downtown. There’s at least one area of the city where you can walk the streets at a reasonable time and feel OK. You don’t want to be walking the streets at that same time in Jane and Finch. It will help keep the downtown vibrant with all those people moving in. You’ve got the war zone and then you’ve got where the people live, happily. Life goes on. It’s a strange set up, but that’s what’s happening. The other problem is the stray bullet that kills an innocent bystander, that’s where it crosses home. There’s going to be someone innocent hit when the bullets are flying. These guys can’t be great shots, which means they have to shoot a lot of times to hit who they want to shoot. It’s not a lot different than some of the large US cities.

There was a shootout at the Columbia fair. It was just outside the gate where it happened, right at the gate. The offices were close to the fence that bordered the road where they were shooting each other. The fair invoked the rule that they use in the malls in Columbia. You couldn’t come into the fair grounds if you were under 16 and not accompanied by an adult. That situation wasn’t in the fair grounds, but those people were probably at the fair. You get problems with youth gangs in fairs, but the police are pretty aware. They won’t let them wear their colours into the fair and they do search them now at the gates.

They’re using metal detectors at the gates in western Canada now. Stopping them at the gates and searching their bags. They don’t find many guns, but they find knives and dope and a lot of stuff. Not in Calgary, but they were doing it in Edmonton this year. In Edmonton they have the youth squad on site every night. It’s a local thing and they work with the youths in the area, so they know a lot of them. They have three observation towers in Edmonton too. Edmonton seems to be the most progressive in terms of how they’re policing it. Calgary’s got problems, but they’re not addressing them. Edmonton is addressing them. They got a bunch of retired policemen to come and work the exhibition and that worked out well. This was the first year they did that. It doesn’t take long for an exhibition to cause it’s own demise if it’s perceived to be violent. Your night business is going to go down the toilet.

Calgary’s lucky, because 30 percent of the people who come there are tourists, so they don’t know nothing, they don’t know about the gangs on the grounds or the violence that happens. Most of the violence that happens in Calgary is with drunks. You’re going to have that when you serve that much alcohol; it’s just a by-product. They serve them alcohol and the guys come out and they want to fight. They don’t hurt the people, they hurt each other. It’s alcohol driven. They have a lot of outlets in Calgary where you can have a drink. It’s the Stampede; it’s party time. People take the week off work and go party. It’s a wonderful celebration and they get the people. The tourist part, that’s pure marketing. They get 300,000 tourists, people from outside of province and a lot of them from outside the country. They come over from Europe. You get on an elevator and nobody’s speaking English. They do a wonderful job. You come into the airport and they’ve got the greeters there, a band there. They host you well and people remember.

Here, they’re all tied up with politics and three boards. There’s a board for Ontario Place, one for Exhibition Place and then the CNE board. For an area that encompasses half a mile they have three boards. That’s were it all starts and they’re all in competition with each other. It’s a nightmare. It’s been getting harder to do business in this province over the years. I compare it to western Canada. We come in here and they declare the exhibition grounds a construction site for our set up. That was new in the last three years, but every year the restrictions are making it harder for us to set up in the time we have. The fencing was up to protect the public going through the grounds. They put up 12,000 feet of fencing to try to coordinate the public coming through here without getting whacked on the head. It makes it very difficult to set up.

When we opened on the first Friday at 11:00 a.m. we had 18 rides that weren’t open. Half of those rides weren’t open because we weren’t ready, the other half because they didn’t pass inspection. Were up to 22 regulatory bodies that we have to deal with. We pass the mechanical side, we might not pass the electrical side. All of the equipment operated in western Canada without problem, but when it comes here, it can’t operate. What’s the problem? Ontario is going to start losing business just because of the bullshit that you have to go through to do business in this province. If I was running a company and I could move to Alberta, I’d be gone. It’s a more friendly business atmosphere out there. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but it can’t be good. Mike Harris tried, but he gave up, he tried to make it better. There’s a lot of union problems in this province, they’re very strong. Here and in BC and Quebec. But it’s the bureaucracy that’s the problem. It’s a wonder you can make any money here. It always amazes me, when we get it open.

The guy that’s really busy because of all this is Bill Kane. He’s in the forefront of all this crap because he’s the guy that deals with health and safety in the workplace, deals with TSSA, immigration, border crossings. He’s in Brantford. He was here for a week before set up. He did a wonderful job, but he was buried under bullshit here. He was trying to coordinate it as best he could. He’s the guy that hits the wall with all the paper work.

He’s been involved with that for a long time and watched it all gradually change. He doesn’t handle the people, he handles the equipment that crosses the border; that’s a lot of paper work. May Robertson handles the people. It’s not easy to take people across the border. They have to be documented and have working visas.

Then we brought in over 100 South Africans, but they have working visas for both countries. They start in the United States and finish in the United States. Most of them can’t get a job where they live and the Canadian dollar is worth eight or nine rands. So if a guy saves up two or three grand here, he’s got a lot of money when he goes home. We’ve got a lot of young people who are clean and want to work. We had a few problems with the hours, but we worked it out. We lost 14 initially and then sent two or three more home.

We lose some anyway, because you can’t tell them what it’s going to be like. I understand that. People ask me to give their son a job down here, and I say, “I’ll get him a job, but once he starts working, he can’t come to me. If he makes it, fine. If he doesn’t make it, he don’t know my number.” I’m not paying him. A lot of them find out that they don’t want to work here. But a lot of them come and they like it, they come back. You get some good people that way.

There’s Mike Zdebiak with my dinner. He ran food stands for Jim Conklin when we first went west. Before that he worked for Bert Murray who had a number food stands with Patty Conklin, so he’s been around for a long time. He runs two French fries and wings stands here. He travels with us. He usually books one with us and one with the fair. He started working for Bert when he was very young, back in the ’60s. Then he come over to us and now he’s on his own. After playing with us, he goes on to the States and plays there. He plays some dates in the States that we’re not involved in. He operates ten months of the year, maybe eleven. He does well. He’s got his son and his wife working.

There’s a thousand stories out there, you’ve just got to go get them.

Note: There are over 200 pages of interviews here, mostly verbatim and unedited. If you find spelling mistakes or typos, or want to add something, contact me at john [dot] thurston [at] sympatico [dot] ca. Thank you!


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