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Margie Shanck

Ottawa, Monday, 22 August 2005

It’s Margie, but I’ve been called many things; I’ve been called “Real McGee,” the substitute postman, I used to go get the mail; “Maggie the Witch,” that fit, that fit.

I started in Riverdale Park, at the age of 13. This was in, oh, God, I’d say ’48 or ’49. I was with my uncle, Joe, and his brother, my uncle Jimmy, and they had a cookhouse and a candy joint, and my pay was all the pennies that were saved in the pickle jar. Don’t forget, it was only 15 cents a candy floss, then. You did your own sticks and your own popcorn.

There’s another person here who can talk to you about it. In fact, he’s celebrating in two years—so am I—fifty years here: Ozzie Mostowy. I was with Ozzie fifty years ago. He can tell you a lot. We worked together with Joe Wirsits, he had candy floss and Ozzie had the photos. Everybody learned a little about everything. You were a jack-of-all-trades. We were family, very close family. This was the old time carnival. There is a big difference now. Well, unfortunately, as you get older, your ideas don’t work as well for the younger generation. But they’ve got their own ideas, and they’ll make it.

We were a very close family. If you were in dire need or trouble, there was always somebody there to give a helping hand. And the families were always together and that. Husband, wife, kids, they were all out together. There was a very nice gypsy family, there must have been 20 of them. They had a mitt camp, and they were very nice people. Everybody was nice, but there was good and bad in everybody. There was good and bad in every show, so you gotta expect that. But if you were pulled over the side of the road, you had a half a dozen trucks stop, right away. “Are you alright? Here, you got the kids? We’ll take the kids on in and we’ll make sure they’re alright.”

Now it’s more or less all business. Well, I guess it would have to be, same as everything else. A dollar isn’t worth a dollar any more. Look at the price of gas. No, don’t look at the price of gas. It’s hard on all the trucks. My car’s at the farm and that’s where it’s gonna stay. My granddaughter’s learning to drive on it, it’s a stick shift. And she says, “Gramma, you’re not taking it back?” And I says, “Not with the price of gas.”

But, I’m out; I’m passed the age of working, so they tell me. At least the government tells me that. But I can come out and get some extra pin money to go away in the wintertime.

I’ve been out every year for the past fifty years, with different shows: Bernard and Barry, they’re no longer around; they were bought by Conklin. Mostly all of them were bought by Conklin. And there was Model Shows, that’s going a way back. And with Sullivan shows. Do we have to say how old I am?

But like I said, there’s still a lot of good people in the business today. But it’s a lot rougher, the hours seem to be a lot longer. Not because my age, but they are longer. Where we used to open up at four o’clock and close at ten, now like it’s 12 to 12, even here. I mean, it could be pouring rain and it’s still 12 to 12. So I mean, you’ve got to expect that. Rain or shine, you’re open, you’re open, a smile on your face and you’re open. People are counting on you, we’re their entertainment. We’re their release, to have relaxation and not have to worry. Like everybody says, “Why are you stressed out?” Well, I gotta have a release, too, so I come out and work here.

I’m a very proud mother of five sons, seven daughter-in-laws, 18 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. We’ve got quite a nice family. All my sons were in the business. Sure they all went in it. Not with me. Because I’m a typical mother, I would have ended up babying them. I sent them out with their uncles and different other people. I sent two of them out west with friends of mine, Rick Deroches, and he put them through the grind. One boy slept in a cot in the back of a joint and saved his money. The other one thought he was a high liner and went to hotels. When they came back, one of them had $1,000, the other one had $5,000.

The second oldest one, Billy, he sat down and worked out all his hours. He must have been there for about two hours. And I thought, “What’s going on with this kid?” Well he says, mom, “I’m not going back on the road. I worked it out. About 75 cents an hour, it paid me.” He stuck to it. He now is a ten-star plumber. They worked mostly joints. Billy was versatile like his mother. He worked candy and he worked joints. He even worked some of the rides. I’ve four plumbers. Rob, the eldest one, is a chief supervisor for TTC.

They didn’t stay in the business that long. Rick did, he still goes out once in awhile, but he’s plumber, too. I told them always get something to fall back on. The trouble is, take a look at the kids today. They all want to take up the computer. Well, that division of computing is flooded. They’re telling people to take a trade. My granddaughter went to Carleton and didn’t know what to do. So I said, “Take a trade.” And she’s now teaching in South Korea. And she loves it. Another granddaughter is just starting at Nipissing College. Their grandmother will be around for a little while, I guess, I don’t know.

It is a family business. There’s three different shows here and I know people on all of them. I mean it pays when you go on the road. I like the guys, and the guys like me, and so do the girls.

This gentleman from the States, he had the 10-in-1 show. This was in 1956, ’cause I had just started going out with my husband at the time; we got married in’57. He had all manners of snakes, but he had a boa constrictor. A little over 30 feet, oh, they were nice, they were pretty, but we used to demonstrate. Well I didn’t know that snakes are very susceptible to perfume. From then on, believe me, we showered before we handled the snakes.

But he got loose. We don’t know where … and we searched, and we had the police there. Like we’re going in the bushes, banging and banging. I mean, he was pretty tame, but still, you know. Some kid’s going to say, “Oh, mommy, look at the snake!” And she’s gonna scream.

And here he was in the cookhouse, on the light fixture that went across the tent. He got in there, well I guess he went up the pole where the lights were warm. And everybody’s eating breakfast the next day and all of a sudden somebody looked up. They all jumped over counters, knocked tables over, food went flying. The snake just looked at everybody as if to say, “You’re crazy.” Everybody was looking for him, while other people are going in to eat. Soon as we heard the screeches, we all ran over. Got the ladder, brought him down.

That was back with Bernard and Barry. I’m trying to think what town; I think it was up in Renfrew, or something like that. It had to be up in this part of the circuit because it was chilly. Slim just took the ladder and went up and got him, picked him up, handed him to the girls, I was one of them, and he says, “Put him in his box for a while ’til he settles down.” I’m going, “Yah, settles down!” You know, like he’s curling like this and you’re, “Come on, keep your head there, keep you tail there.” We all laughed about it later. Hitting those bushes looking for a 30-foot snake. You never knew where he was. We found him.

I worked candy for Mr. Jamieson for about four years. And this year he put me in the Potato Factory. I have been working in joints, too, I worked joints here. And I worked in cookhouses. I worked in the wheel. I’ve did just about everything. I’ve worked rides, too. When you’re younger, not now.

I was in a girl show when I was 17. Outside the girl show there’s a platform and there’s two ticket booths there. One girl got up there, the other girl got up there. Well he didn’t put it on right and I went flat on the ground. We got a picture of it and that was out in Calgary, on Sullivan shows. I’ll tell you, I don’t know what was funnier, ’cause the dresses were cocktail dresses, with layers and layers and layers. It was right over my head. I don’t know, I think everybody had a laugh. It was in the early ’50s.

I played the west with Sullivan shows. That was a train show. That was a rough. Good thing they had a train because that’s when you slept. The trip from Hamilton, all the way out to Calgary, that’s a long enough jump.

Ozzie Mostowy, he can tell you a lot, he’s been in it as long as I have. And he is a year older. But there’s a lot of people … Billy Watson … The showmen’s club opens up in October. Hop in there, you’ll meet a lot of people. We got a couple of the old timers, one’s in the hospital right now. Unfortunately, they don’t give him much time. There’s a lot of people who can tell you a lot more about it than I can.

Jimmy, I don’t have too many memories of, mostly of Patty. Jimmy likes the same kind of dogs that I do. I see him more now, than I did when he was younger. I see more of Barry now than I did when he was younger. I used to always see him on the Octopus. I gave him a picture this year. I made a collage of all the pictures I have. There’s one of Patty in there, just when he started wearing the peaked cap. He used to always wear his fedora, including Jimmy Sullivan, always a fedora. I think they ate and slept in the fedoras. Suit, too, that’s what changed too. You used to always dress up to come to work. Very seldom would you see women in shorts. They’d always wear dress pants or a decent skirt. So, I mean that has changed, but so has fashion for everything.

When Conklin bought Sullivan, I was with smaller shows. By that time, I’d already had five children. If I didn’t have them away at camp, I couldn’t go out. My youngest boy wasn’t that well all the time. He had to stay with me, he’s a celiac. Can’t eat wheat. We couldn’t be sending him to camp or he else he’d be sick all the time. The smaller shows were just as nice. The bigger shows, you got more company. The smaller ones don’t operate as many days, so that limits your money. If you take care of your money, you could live on it.

I hope to go away this winter. I live in Toronto. I’m a northern girl, Schumacher. Way up to there! I lived next door to the Mahovaliches. My dad, mom, my aunts, and uncle John, we took up a whole car and drove from Schumacher down to Toronto. The mines closed up there. I think I was about four or five. The only thing I didn’t like about it, was I had to sleep on a wooden chair. We brought the animals and everything with us, dogs, cats, birds. Settled in Toronto. I’ve been in and out of Toronto, and lived other places, too. Altogether I’ve been across Canada about six times. Always with a show, from Halifax to Nanaimo. Everybody says, “Wow, you’ve really travelled.” Yah, most of it in cars, too.

Bill Lynch, I knew him quite well. I worked for one of his independents. Good friends of mine all went down there. I was sorry to see him pass. I was out west. We worked for different ones out west. In the early days, if you didn’t want to stay around, something wasn’t right, you just went to another show. Now the shows are getting compact, it’s nearly all Conklin now. London, now, I think they’ve still got Campbell and the French one.

Homeniuk is in there too, I worked on that show. There’s a man can tell you a lot of tales. He can tell you about somebody being on the back of the flat bed truck, throwing off the braces on both sides, and that was me. In the early days, they had me on the back of the truck and they’d say OK, ’cause all the braces were the same colour. So, he’d drive down, the legs would already be there, and he’d be like this, “OK, let’s go.” That would be it. Four braces, “Let’s go.”

Renfrew, we were supposed to leave on a Sunday and we got rained in. We couldn’t get out of Renfrew. It was flooded, all around us. I have pictures of people wearing their boots, and the mud was over their boots. We were on the low ground. The ground around the Ferris wheel sank. We had to have tractors pull out stuff. They hand-bombed the Octopus off: taking all the steel, they’d line up and hand it off to high ground. That was one miserable night and day.

Some of my friends were killed on the highway. One man, he’s passed on now, worked the machine guns, he lost his wife and two sons in one accident and we thought we were going to lose him for a while. They were going to the next spot. The trailer came off somehow and jackknifed the car right down into a ravine. So, you’ve got your heartaches.

Dottie Marco still lives in Toronto, and she’s got a lot of tales to tell. Best phone Barb first, she’s at the house, and see what the best day is.

My husband worked a flat joint. He passed away last October. We were separated for many years. Actually, I became the agent and was teaching him. He couldn’t add worth a damn. He could spell like a trooper, but couldn’t add worth a damn. A count store with the marbles and then they went to the little balls. And then they went to the darts, and I says, “You gotta be faster. Just make it up in your mind, that’s all.” He left Canada and went to work in the States, and he was still working when he passed away.

Ozzie and me were here in Joe Wirsits candy almost 50 years ago, right outside the grandstand. Joe made his own caramel corn and he’d just say, “Put it on hot, put it on hot. And walk away with it.” And I mean we were busy. Six of us in there and couldn’t keep it up. He’s the one who taught me how to make candy apples, caramel corn, how to do your own cones for floss. We’d travel spot to spot, and he’d say, “Here’s 2,000, I want them done before we get to there.” You’re rolling your own cones. Now they’re manufactured. If you put in a left-handed person and the cones get mixed up, you were in trouble because it undid the cone. And all of sudden you were going like this, “OK, here you go lady.” The cones fell apart.

Down in Windsor, it’s still on file, I got married between two 50-foot Ferris wheels. It was B & B, but it was the Bonder brothers. And they were coming over, and one had a bottle and the other one had an envelope, and my husband’s going like this for the envelope, but I got the envelope, he got the bottle. But they had pictures in the Star Weekly and that’s how my mother found out I got married. I didn’t tell anybody. That was ’57. We met in ’56. The best man, in fact, got run over with the bingo truck, the day before the wedding, broke his jaw. There was a lot of volunteers to be best man. But I went right back to work, as soon as the ceremony was over. Party later. Wait ’til October for the honeymoon.

So that’s about it for me. I’m still happy. I’d like to come back here in two years and really have a … I told Ozzie, I says, “We both come back, I’m going get a blooming cake that big and we’re going to have a celebration.” That’ll be the fiftieth for both of us.

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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