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Barry “Bloke” Ford

Ottawa, Thursday, 25 August 2005

I started in ’75. Mr. Conklin brought me over from England. When we came over there was 13 of us the first year. After that, three us came back from England. I’ve been with Mr. Conklin pretty well ever since. I went back and forth for the first couple of years and then I got my papers to stay. He bought a couple of rides, the Coronation Arc, the Hey Dey and the Waltzer, and I was involved in bringing them over. I started back in England when I was 13 years old. I started out in the candyfloss business, and moved to the games, and when I was old enough, they put me on the rides.

They brought the Coronation Arc to the CNE in ’75 and we set it up and operated it for the CNE. I don’t even know where it is anymore; I think it’s out in BC or maybe in Calgary. The following year they brought this ride over called the Hey Dey. When I was England, I had to go to the factory and look at it. I spent about a month there, just looking at it, tearing it down and setting it up. Then we brought it over and took it out west for the first season. I was with Frank Conklin on the Enterprise for the first year, so I guess it would be the second year, ’77. That year it was the Hey Dey. I think it was the Scrambler and a couple of rides the year after, and then they put me in charge of Kiddieland out in the west, for about five years, into the early ’80s.

Then I got out for a couple of years and came back and started with Barry on World’s Finest Shows, looking after the ride department on the Supershow. I was in Canada, but I just got out for two years. I’m now the manager of the Talbot Unit, that’s one of the three shows here. There’s the Talbot and the Trillium units, which are the World’s Finest main shows, and then there’s Supershows, which is Mr. Conklin’s. I manage the Talbot Unit, but I still do my bit of truck driving, and setting up, and do what you gotta do to make it happen.

Patty Marco taught me how to set up a lot. After the western road show, we used to play a few spots around Ontario, like the ploughing match. He used to walk on the lot and he’d say, “Bloke, get over here.” And he’d throw the stakes and the hammer at me, and away we went. Me and Patty got along well. He was good with me. I think it was because I always wanted to learn, so that’s why he looked for me when he pulled on the lot. I only played about four or five spots a year with him, but it was good experience. We just did extra spots, like the ploughing match. Orillia was an extra spot; Port Hope back then was an extra, it wasn’t part of the main route. And Barry showed me a few things.

Steve Choate, he was another one, he was on the Supershow with me. Steve looked after the Supershow when Mr. Conklin first bought it from Al Flute. I can’t remember the name of the show, now, but Mr. Conklin bought the show and he sent myself, Steve Choate, Dukie Jones and this guy, Sneaky Pete, who had the concessions, out there. There were the four of us and we didn’t know what we were going to do, we just went out with this show. We had to find our own staff. When I went out, I think I had five or six people, and none of them knew anything about the carnival. But after a couple of weeks, we started picking a few more up. The first year was the toughest, but after that I started to get an established crew and a lot of them stayed with me for five, six years.

I think the first year for the Supershow was ’86, somewhere in there. The ride rental unit used to be called the Supershow. They only played four or five dates in a year, but then when they bought this show out, they made it a full-time road show. Dave McKelvey was in Rockton Lion Safari. Gordie Banks was out at that time too. After I moved to the Talbot Unit, they sold the Supershow to Alan Feiberman and his wife. Feiberman and his wife split up and the show went to whoever wanted to buy it.

Then Mr. Conklin a couple of years ago decided he was going to start his rental unit back on the road show. That’s where Dave came into play. It’s only been four years. Mr. Conklin had a lot of stuff in parks, and he took it out. He’s always got rides around, whatever he had on the rental unit could pretty well do it. He started buying, a gondola wheel and Space Sled, so he’s built the show up. It looks really good now. Dave and Jimmy Kong look after it.

Patrick Jamieson’s with me on the Talbot Unit and his fiancée, who looks after the office. Then there’s Doug Wood with the games and Paul Copke has the candyfloss. We start in April and go right through till Thanksgiving, 25, 26 dates in a season. It’s a bit of work, but we do what we gotta do. The Toronto street festival and the North Bay heritage festival, they’re pretty good spots.

Favourite spots? Maybe Kinmont, next week. You get off the asphalt and smell the pine trees. It’s a beautiful layout. We’ve got the major rides at the top of a hill, and down in the valley we have Kiddieland all set up. It’s really neat. We have a big barbecue for the staff. It’s up north of Lindsay, near Minden. Population of Kinmont is only 400 and then they have 600 trailer sites, so they get most of their people from the trailers, and then all the cottagers. It’s the final thing of the season for the cottagers, I guess, they start winding down for back to school. Labour Day weekend, we have to get it Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We tear down Sunday night, which is strange because most places like to have the Monday, but they don’t want it. Six o’clock on Sunday night, there’s nobody there. On the holiday, we move the show, 20 some odd moves to get down to the Niagara Peninsula. We do a couple of loads each. Not much of a day off. We get our days off in the winter. I winter in Brantford. We have a shop down there.

Pat would come in and lay out the lot, then he’d go back to the main show. He’d leave somebody like Box to look after the office, and that would be it. As soon as he’d laid it out, he’d go back to the other show.

Stan Airdrie took a liking to me when I first come over, and we went off to different places, and his nephew, Paul Guy Lee, Stan was always playing tricks on him. We went out to this one spot, I think it was Hemmingsford, Quebec. We had to tear down the park, but we had to go to this guy’s house. So he sent Paul to go knock on the door. Once he got out of the truck, he says, “Lock the door, Bloke, lock the door.” The next thing is, Paul comes running across the yard with this dog chasing him. He couldn’t get in the truck. That was a pretty good one.

Stan was one for chewing tobacco, too. We were in the Rockton Lion Safari, tearing down the slide. As soon as I got there, I didn’t wait, I got up to the top of the ride. Stan was up right there with me and there he is chewing tobacco and spitting it over the side. The guys would be running, trying to get out of the way.

My first experience with a moose, I was on my way out west, driving a pickup truck. The moose come out of the side and onto the road, so I slowed down and he turned around and went back in. So I thought he was gone and I put my foot back down on the gas. I turned around and there was a second one there. He took the mirror on the pickup truck, hit the back the box, and then ended up in the side of Stan’s house trailer. I pull into the next town and call him. I say, “I had this accident with this moose.” He says, “Well, is it drivable?” I tell him, “Oh, yeah, it’s just caved in a little bit on the corner.” So Stan, he just put a blue tarp over it. After that they put a mirror on the truck with the name “Moose Catcher” painted on it.

We were out in Calgary, sitting in a bar, and this guy come riding his horse right through the bar. I’ve been in a lot of bars, and I’ve never seen that happen before. Stampede time, there’s always some good times then.

Since I’ve been on this show, there haven’t been as good of stories like there used to be. There’s more work, than stories. I used to do a lot with Stan, you know, driving down the road and firing up the generator to make a pot of tea. He says, “You’ve gotta have your tea, it’s tea time.” Now, he still goes out on weekends with the candyfloss. He does a lot of work for Mr. Conklin in the wintertime, building bunks and fixing rides. But he’s got his own business doing renovations. He’s in Brantford too. That’s where pretty well everybody hangs out. Where we used to have winter quarters. Now we’re in Nanticoke. Mr. Conklin’s shop is in Brantford and Campbell Amusements is there. It used to be the carnival capital of Canada at one time. Lot of shows in the area.

When I first came over, I lived on the CNE grounds on the train. I didn’t even know Toronto was there for the first two months. We’d go over to Ontario Place at night after work; get something to eat and a couple of beers, then go back to the train. McSorely and Kenny Smith lived on the train. Every time there was a football game, whatever team won, we’d wrang up the losing team, all waiting to get on the Go Train.

McSorely was quite a character, too. He used to do a lot with the guys setting up the rides. He’d go up on the top and drop stuff on them, just to keep them awake, nuts and bolts. He liked to come out and visit the Supershow every once in a while, with a Ferris wheel. When he came out, I didn’t have to go out and work on the Scrambler, I had to set up the Ferris wheel, because he wouldn’t let any body else be up there, he didn’t trust them, I guess. He wasn’t out very often, just after the CNE, he would play a couple of dates with us, just for some extra rides. I had to make sure I had some 50 for him, he drank 50. That’s one beer I’ll never get used to.

Dave McKelvey’s got a nickname, Lilly. He had to take a merry-go-round horse down to St. Catharines to a barbershop. Mr. Conklin sold this horse, and Dave had to go and put it in this store window for the guy. The guy tried picking him up. So after that, we called him Lilly. I used it on him all the time. There’s not too many of us who remember it. Once he got the horse in there, he was gone. He wasn’t going to stand around there.

It’s a lot different from when I first came over. Conklin Shows and World’s Finest Shows have tried to change the business, to be a business, and not have the reputation that we used to have. But everybody’s painted with the same brush. It’s a tough life, you know. I don’t think I could do anything else. I tried for two years. I was driving for a produce company out of Belleville. I did that for two years and I was always wondering what everybody was doing, missing the people. It was good to have the summer off, but I missed the people. You get to know a lot of people and we’re all old friends. It’s more of a family, everybody watches out for everybody. It’s good, I like it. It’s definitely changing.

I never got to meet Patty, he had passed away before I got here. But everybody respected him, everything was done with a handshake, that’s what I heard about him. That’s good that he ran the business like that. The rest of the shows out there think they can just go out and get all the money, and that ruins it for everybody.

A lot of these youngsters who start, they think they’re carnies. I don’t know how you would ever change it, but the image needs to be changed. The younger staff think they’re carnies as soon as they walk on the lot, and I say to them, “You’re not a carnie. Were you born on the show? You’re not, so forget that attitude right now.” You have to talk to them, or otherwise they go downtown and think they’re tough guys. You just can’t have that. You gotta straighten that out of them right away. We have a lot of trouble in town. They think that we’re going to back them up because now they’re working for the carnival. So you have to try to straighten that out.

Bringing these South Africans over brings you a better quality of workers than the ones that are here that have been with you for a few years. The staff begins to realize that the image has changed. With these South Africans, you never have that problem. I have nine of them and you know, they don’t have all the bad habits like all the people from Ontario that are out. It’s hard to find good help, and these guys have been really good. The one fellow has been with me now three years. He wants to live here. He likes it now, same as me, when I first came over. I go try it for six months and I got back, and I needed to get back here. He’s the same way; I hope he can get here. There’s not too many up and coming youngsters in the business, and a lot of us are getting up there now, so we’ve got to try to train some of these people, guys to take it over. There’s nobody really to train. You know, we’ve got Patrick and Stacey, and they’re in the business, but there’s not too many that are interested.

It’s just a job for them, although they say, why don’t you go and get a real job. Well, if you’re not thinking of this as a real job, then you shouldn’t be here. It’s definitely a better deal with the South Africans, even if they only last for a year or two. At least then these people who could be back, they’ve started to think that they could replace me. There’s not too many coming into the business, and wanting to learn. You get the odd one, but I don’t think there’s enough out there to carry on, they’re not interested in it.

You’ve got guys that have been here five, six years, who don’t know much. I’m out there in the morning laying out the lot and when I was starting, I’d be out there helping the lot man, so I could learn stuff. They’re in the bunkhouse sleeping and only come out to start setting up. I always wanted to be out there to learn all this stuff. There’s some tough jobs. You have a tough date but then you don’t have to open until Friday of the next week, so you have time to relax.

When we were at the Toronto street festival, there were 19 rides there this year. We got in there at seven o’clock Friday night. We had to set up and open Saturday morning. We operated Saturday and Sunday, and we had to be off the street by midnight on Sunday night. But it gets done every time. You worry about is it going to work, is it going to get set up, but it always does. This year we were at Yonge and Eglington. It’s two good days with a lot of people on Yonge Street. We have to close at 11 o’clock at night—noise by-law—I’m closing the ticket box and people are still lined up because they want to get on the rides. They’re partying till two, three in the morning on Yonge Street, but we have to close.

For a couple of years we got on at one o’clock in afternoon and opened at six o’clock on Friday night, to get an extra day out of it. They changed the opening ceremonies to a different site, so we just get Saturday and Sunday now; the weekend after the July holiday weekend. We just put rides in, no games. It’s 900 feet on the one side and 400 feet on the other side, so 35 feet is the biggest ride, unless you get into an intersection. It’s a challenge to get it on and get it set up, dodging the traffic. They don’t close the streets until seven o’clock and I can’t wait till then to lay it out. We get a measuring wheel and I get a couple of guys, one’s a spotter and one’s a painter, and I measure it out. When cars come, we run off the street.

I like going to new lots because it’s a challenge to set them up, figuring it out. You go to a spot that you’ve been playing for years, you know how it goes, and you just change the rides up. You go to a new spot, you’ve got to figure it out. I like that part of it. I try to switch things around as best I can, to see if it will work different, but the new spots are the better ones. You watch the crowd and hope you got it right. I keep notes on how to do it the next year. Barry Jamieson told me, he says, “Just tell, Bloke, that you’ll get it right next week.” Don’t worry about it now. Fix it next week. I was a little nervous when they moved me from the 10-ride Supershow to the 20-ride Talbot Unit, but it’s just more pieces that you’ve got to put in, that’s all. If I had to put people in the same spot every year, it would be a waste of time me being here. You’ve got to change things, you can’t make it look the same every year because then people will start saying it’s the same old show. I don’t like that, I like moving stuff around.

With that new stage over there this year, it’s a little loud for the games at night when the bands are playing, but I think it is better, because it’s bringing the people down there instead of up at the front and when the concerts get out, going out the front gate. Now this way, they’ve got to come through here to get to the front gate. It’s always better when the stage is outside. The only problem is, like Sunday night, when it rains for Michelle Wright. That was a good artist, but nobody was there to watch her because of the weather. When it’s nice out, it’s good, but they could set it up with shelter.

I’ll stay with the show, I’ve got no plans to go anywhere else. My wife keeps asking me when I’m going to get out of it and go do something else. But I’ve got no interest. This is different every week. I couldn’t stand it in a factory, doing the same job. Even driving truck, you’re just sitting there, you see different scenery, but it’s still the same thing. So I think this is where I’m going to be for the rest of my career. My wife comes out sometimes. She’s taking a course right now, she’s a teacher. She was on the road for a few years, worked in the office, worked in games, rides. I met here in a spot we used to play. She went back to school and got her education, it’s been 14 years now. She’s taking a Mohawk language course. She wants to teach that. She teaches special ed and she figured that if she could get the language course behind her too, it would be better for her. She’s taken a year now to take that course. It’s recognized by Brock University. She teaches on the reserve. When she was teaching, another teacher would come in to do the language part of it. So she feels it would be better to have the same teacher to teach you everything. She’s at Tyendinaga, which is up by Belleville. She’s there and I’ll be living in Brantford with my youngest daughter.

I got four kids, they all grew up around the show. My son used to come out on weekends during the summer time, but he’s not been around as much as my girls, they worked the candyfloss, the tickets. My one daughter’s working here in the ticket office. She’s taking a two-year course in culinary arts management at Niagara College. She’ll be going back the week after Kinmount. I told her, I don’t care what you do after your education, but get all your education. This has been good for them, on the road, it gives them a little street smarts and stuff like that. My daughters were all working the tickets when they were 12, 13 years old. My eldest, she wants to work on the rides, but there’s not too much work for girls on the rides. You might get girls on the kiddie rides, but usually not too often. It’s the set up. Some of them can handle it, but we’ve had a couple that were just not strong enough. So you’re paying them to stand around during set up. Your paying guys on the rides for set up and tear down.

Maintenance now, there’s only a certain few of us that can do it because of the mechanics licence. You’ve got to have a licence to sign off on it when you fix a ride. So you can’t let everybody work on the rides. Patrick and Rodney run maintenance. I’ve got five with licences on the Talbot and I think there are six or eight on the other show. We’ve all got our licences to do it, but I don’t do as much, but if it has to be done I can do it. I’ve just gotten the experience over the years and I had to write a test. It’s something T.S.S.A. brought in, just in the last few years. We own a lot of welding stuff, but now if we have any big welding to do, we have to get in a licensed welder. We can do the small stuff, the trailer fixing, but the main rides we can’t do the welding on.

The business is definitely changing. Lots of paper, you know, log books just to move the stuff up and down the road. You’ve got your log books, you’ve got your trip sheets and maintenance sheets. When you stop for fuel, you have to have that put in the right file. Then for the rides, you’ve got all your inspections for them. You’ve Ontario Hydro every week, that’s hounding you. Propane inspectors come and check you out every once in a while. So many different government bodies that are on you, you’ve got to be on top of all this stuff. Terry has to spend most of his time in his office doing paper work. Me, I don’t have as much stuff, so it’s a lot easier for me. I’ve only got five tractors and straight jobs, so my paper work’s a lot less than what Terry’s is.

In England you don’t have all this paper work. You don’t even have fences around the rides because the people know to stay back. The Waltzer, which is similar to a Tilt-A-Whirl, well the people sit on the fence around it in England, but you couldn’t do that over here. You’d have somebody getting pushed on to the ride. Over there you don’t get that sort of stuff. The merry-go-round doesn’t have a fence around it. They have a swing ride that has a platform with four steps up to it, that doesn’t have a fence because the swings are above the heads of people. And nobody walks up there when the ride’s running. The bumper cars are only fenced for structural purposes, but as soon as the ride stops, people get off, people get on. You sound the bell, if you haven’t got a car, you get off. They don’t have all this trouble.

I guess we’re getting too much like the Americans. Most of the accidents happen because they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them, what they’re supposed to be doing. The inspectors say, “Well, you’ve got to protect the stupid.” So I say to them, “Maybe you should put a fence at every crosswalk, so that people can’t walk out into the traffic.” How much can you protect them? They’ve got to start taking responsibility for their own actions. What are you going to do, take a rope and lead them around, and say, get on this ride, go to the next one, get on this ride. What can you do?

It’s a business and you’ve got to run it. You do your best. You put a gate there and they open it and walk in. But if they get hurt, it’s our fault. It’s going change and I can see it coming. I see in the States, a few of the states are passing laws that you’ve got to be responsible for your own actions. If it’s the ride’s fault, then OK, but if you open a gate and walk in, you’ve got be responsible. We’ve gone to the point of putting the gate there to protect them, but if they open it and walk in, they’ve got to be responsible. There’s lot of states are getting really strict and these are the policies that they’ve started to pass. Maybe the T.S.S.A. has got to start doing some of that stuff. They’re strict in some ways, but they don’t protect you. They look after the public, but they’ve got to start to saying … It’s got to be two-sided, it can’t be one-sided all the time.

It’s the same with the paper work for the rides. There’s guys out there that still don’t have their licences, but they put the fees up for people that’ve got their licences, because they need the revenue. Why not get these guys that haven’t got their licences and aren’t doing the job properly? Make it a fair playing field, you know. They finally got one last year, from Quebec. He’s been coming over here for I don’t know how many years. Finally they got him last year, he didn’t have no licences or anything like that. He was just playing spots and they could never catch up to him. They finally closed his show down and sent him back over to Quebec, which is good for us.

They need to do more of that, especially up in northern Ontario. They’re coming over from Manitoba or from the States, come in play a spot, then leave. They don’t know about registering and everything. We do everything by the book, as it’s laid out for us, but these other people do not. If we see it, we’ll report it to them, but whether they act on it, at least we’re trying to get them to go deal with it. Sudbury’s about as far north as we go now. We used to go out to the Sault, but now it’s just Sudbury, and Ottawa here to the east and Windsor to the west. The Niagara Peninsula, I play about six or seven dates there. Welland, Beamsville, Ancaster, Caledonia; we play Port Dalhousie on the beach for the July 1st date. It’s nice.

We have a lot of fun there too. The Lionesses, they set up a booth, a penny sale. Our electrician set up a power box right in the middle of it. The ladies just took a tablecloth and put it over it. One lady says, “I want to make it up to you, I’m sorry,” so she baked him some cookies. She burned all the bottoms of the cookies. They were great cookies, but they were all burned, because she was trying to get back at him. The next day he put a washroom inside the tent.

This year, we’re thinking what to do, so we took Homer Simpson, put a rope around his neck, and hung it from the middle of the tent. We put a note on it, “Marg, look after the kids. The clown made me do it.” Some of the members of the Lions’ Club were police officers and they gave us police tape and we wrapped it around the tent. So she came in the next morning, she says, “What’s going on?” “There was a suicide last night, you can’t go in there.” Then she shouts, “Frenchie, where are you?” She knew he did it. We have a lot of fun like that. She had a penny sale booth, where you buy tickets and put them in a can to win prizes. It’s a fund-raiser for the Lions’ Club.

When we played Welland, they used to put a snow fence up, between us and the rest of the fair. When I started there, they did it for a couple of years. I says, “Why are you doing this? It looks so bad. We should be all intermixed, all together. We’re partners.” I got it changed around. We work on one side of the walkway, the independents—forty milers—work on the other side. But it looks full now. Before it never looked full because they never had enough to fill both sides. So we got rid of that fence. But there’s still a lot of committees out there that say, “You carnies stay down there and stay away from us.” There’s others that in the wintertime I get invited to go and spend time at their houses and go out to dinner with them.

It’s mainly the older people; they think it’s the old time carnie still. A lot of them don’t even know what we’re doing. They get in with the quilts and the homecrafts and wonder, “What do these guys do, do they just come and take our money?” We leave a big chunk of money with them. It’s not all come in and take the money and run. We pay a big chunk of money to a lot of these fairs. We go out there and we work together, if you work together things are better. I’ve got suggestions for them and they’ve got suggestions for me, and I say we’re partners for a week. You’re partners, so why not work together.

You’re in a business and the two partners are fighting, the business ain’t going to last very long. I look at it that way. The fairs that don’t have a midway are starting to fall by the wayside because they don’t get all the funding they used to, so now they need the revenue from the midway to survive. Government funding stopped a few years ago. They still get some, but not what they used to. A lot of them are getting away from the agriculture. The big towns don’t have the agriculture because the food’s so far out. Small towns, Kinmount, Beamsville, they don’t have a lot, but they still have some. They’re starting to get surrounded by Grimsby.

They don’t get the funding like they used. A lot of it is because farmers are too far out now. The small towns, which aren’t very big, at the edge of the town the agriculture starts and they get farmers on the board. For a farmer to be on the fair board here in Ottawa, they’ve got to live quite a ways out. That’s when you lose the agriculture because the rest of the fair board is looking after the entertainment. So if you haven’t got the members to do the agriculture, I think that’s what it is. Most of the fair boards that we go to are made up of farmers, with the smaller fairs. They bring in the agriculture.

In England, we get midways, but there aren’t too many fairs, they’re all county fairs. Like Staffordshire or Derbyshire, they would have their own fair. They’d move into different parts of Staffordshire or Derbyshire, so that different people get to host it. I think that here, a lot of these small fairs need to do that. Instead of ten small fairs, you put one big one on, and it could be better for everyone. The ones that just do their fair are not surviving. We play Brigden and you’ve got Petrolia, you’ve got Rome, there’s about seven of them and the only fair that makes any money is Brigden Fair. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s Thanksgiving weekend or they’re doing things right. All these other fairs, they can’t get a midway because they’re too small, there’s no money. Now if they all got in and worked as one fair for that county, it would work out a lot better for them. If you have to change the location, this year you’re in Brigden, next year Petrolia, or whatever it is. Or you find a separate piece of property and build it up.

More and more, the fairs are an excuse for a midway. They think that we can draw thousands and thousands of people, but it doesn’t work. They’ve got to put on the stunt shows and the bands to get the people. Some extra entertainment there, then people come, and then we entertain them more. But put an eight to ten dollar gate on and expect people to pay to go on the midway, you’re dreaming, it’s not going to happen. You go into some places, and the fair board or homecraft, they put on meals. Here, all you can get are hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries. A lot of these fair boards do this, the ladies put on a turkey dinner, with homemade pies and tarts.

I think moving this fair is going to kill it. The Gloucester Fair was in town, and you got a lot of walk-in traffic. Now it’s out at the racetrack and you don’t get all that traffic. You’ve got to rely on people who have vehicles, there’s no bus service out there, so how do people get to it. I don’t think the Ottawa fair being out there with the Gloucester Fair is going to hurt it. Because of the different times of the year, but it’s getting them out there. Where the Gloucester Fair was, now a midway goes and sets up by the arena, and people think it’s the fair. A show works there when the fair’s on. The fair board should be doing something to try and stop that. They don’t have a lot of active members either. There’s a guy on the board who sees it the right way, he says, “You want to bring all this entertainment in for the teenagers, but the fair is more for families.” You look at the rides, we take big pieces in there and they don’t get the business like the family rides do. But they still want the big pieces and they have battle of the bands, it doesn’t do nothing for it. They would be better off focusing on family type entertainment, then they’d do a lot better. Teenagers can’t get out there, except the ones that have their licence. At that time of year it’s exam time, so they’ve got to pass their exams, why would they go to a fair. They’ve got to take a look at it, if they survive another year.

The small strong fairs are getting better. The ones that used to be the big ones are dying because the fair ground used to be out in the country and now it’s surrounded by houses and everybody complains because they don’t want them there and the noise and the smell or whatever. They’re going by the wayside. The big towns have festivals and all this other stuff going on. Where the small towns, they don’t have any thing else going on, so everybody waits for the one thing to come into town. That’s what’s happening to a lot of these big towns. They’ve got the festival in the summer time and a midway in for a still date, then the fair comes around and everybody’s had enough carnival. They’ve got to change the way they’re thinking to try and to draw the people, to try and get the people back from the festival. Market it a little better before the festival. They haven’t got the money to put out to get the entertainment to match the festivals.

This year Belleville Fair is having it’s last time at that fair grounds; it’s moving out by the Ten Acre Truck Stop. You get out there, how are you going to get people out there. Kingston, they want to tear down the arena and fair grounds, and put something else in there. So they don’t know where they stand after this year. They still have the contract for this year, but where will the fair go after that? There’s a big thing going on there. All winter long they were fighting over it. I don’t know what they’re going to do there. Lindsay Fair is moving out of its fair grounds, but that fair’s a strong fair. Kingston and Belleville are getting weak. Kingston used to be big, Belleville was big, but then they got weak and now they’ve gotta move out. Whereas Lindsay is still a strong date and now they’ve got to move into a different fair grounds, it’ll hurt them a little. But look at Markham, they moved, but now Markham’s back to where it was. The grounds are real nice, they’ve got a lot of stuff, they’ve got a lot of agriculture, the demolitions and all the noisy stuff to draw the people. Maybe you get out of here, maybe that’s what you need, is to do the demolition derbies and the tractor pulls, put on the entertainment.

There’s always going to be the strong ones and they will stay. But it’s going to be the country fairs that survive, in the cities they’re not going because of all the entertainment that goes on. Belleville was a big fair, Kingston, Peterborough, they were all good fairs and they’ve gone right down because of all the stuff that goes on around the city. It’s hard to find a weekend when something’s not going on. There’s only so many entertainment dollars out there. Those were the big ones that you’ve gotta watch, as they go by the wayside. Unless when they move Belleville they change their entertainment package. They do the demolition derbies, stunt shows, and things like that. There’s going to be a racetrack and slots up there, but the people that come in for the slots aren’t there for the fair anyway.

People coming out to the Gloucester Fair, they’re either coming to the fair or coming for the slots, they’re not coming for both. That’s maybe why it is a family fair now because the people that want to go to the slots can’t bring their kids with them. The entertainment package did a lot more for kids this year. I think they realize it, but there’s still a couple of members that think they need the big rides. That’s not how it’s going to be. Then they get upset when you only bring 20 rides. They don’t need them now. They get their numbers back up, then we’ll bring the rides. The way fuel and insurance is now, you can’t drag this equipment around and not make the money. The whole business is going to change for sure. Shopping malls, you’re getting less of them to go into now because a lot of cities require so many parking spaces per store, and they don’t have it, so they can’t give up all these parking spaces for a midway. It’s tougher to find dates than it used to be.

We still do a full season now, but what next year brings, I don’t know. We’ve got to take a strong look at it. Jan, myself, Rick Smith, we look after booking our own shows. We get a couple of good ones in May, a couple of good ones in June. But to put a show out with 50 people employed, you’ve got to look to see if you can do it a different way, so that you can still make the money and keep people around.

Marco Bourbonnier has been out for a long time, his father Ernie Bourbonnier had the bingos and now he does. Red Mills has been around the shows for a long time. He was working when I first came out, same as Dave McKelvey, he was here when I started. Red hasn’t change much, he’s just gotten older. People go, but they always come back. I meet people all the time on the road who used to be with it, and wished they still were. But family life is keeping them at home now. There’s a lot of people out there that worked for Conklins at one time or another.

If I got out of this company, I wouldn’t go and work for any other show. I’ve been with Conklins for so long now, I look at the rest, how can you go from the best to something else. That’s the way I look at it. Red, after he got his millwright papers, went and worked for different shows, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t get treated the same, so he wanted to get back here. He came back here and he said, “I’m not going anywhere. If I’m not working for this show, I’m not working for any carnival.” He’ll be around forever.

Melissa’s supposed to be here today, I think. I heard something on the radio this morning. She usually comes in some time during the Ex and spends the day. Then drives down to Toronto. I hadn’t seen her probably for about 20 years, then this thing when I went to Red Fish, she was down there. She runs that. She’s out in Vermont, where the skiing is good. Then there’s Box.

It’s loyalty with Mr. Conklin. He’s always treated me right. I went to Texas, down to his fishing lodge. I drove a truck down there for him with furniture and stuff. When I was down there, I spent three, four days fishing. He said, “Whenever you want to head back, go. I’m not pushing you out of here.” It’s nice to have a boss like that. It’s a nice lodge and he’s got a good bunch of guys down there too, tour guides really look after you.

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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