In March 1953, Patty Conklin of Conklin Shows was contracted to build a permanent roller coaster for the Canadian National Exhibition. The travelling amusement company had been providing rides, games and sideshows on The Midway since 1937. In return for constructing the roller coaster, Mr Conklin’s company had a 10-year lease for the ride with an option to renew, plus the CNE received a percentage of the profit.
American roller coaster king Joe McKee, also known as Mile-A-Minute McKee, was commissioned to design the thrill ride. He was only one of four designers worldwide and was in high demand.
1953 CNE Debut
The Flyer roller coaster was the highest and fastest in the world at the time. Its tallest point was 19 m or 62 ft, and it could reach speeds up to 104 km or 65 miles per hour. Two four-car trains sped along the ride’s 796 m or 2,612 ft long track. Each train could hold up to 32 riders, and the mighty roller coaster could handle over 26,000 people on a busy day.
The Flyer had an all-wood framework, supported on cement piers and cost approximately $185,000 to construct. It was located at the east end of The Midway, or in today’s terms, it was situated at Princes’ Blvd, just southeast of Nunavut Rd. In 1953, the Flyer and other rides on The Midway cost 5¢.
What was a ride on the Flyer like?
After leaving the station, it began with a long, slow turn. Riders then inched their way up an anticipation-filled, chain-lift climb to the roller coaster’s highest summit for a suspended-in-the-air, then fast, straight-away plunge. This was followed by two sets of a swooping left curve and a sequence of speedy dips and peaks. Then there was a last left bank turn and a rapid stop into the station.
The 1-minute and 40-second clickity-clackety ride left you feeling exhilarated, traumatized or with happy nausea.
The End of an Era
After losing money for eight years and no longer being the highest or fastest, the aging roller coaster was torn down in 1992. The Flyer operated for 39 years and thrilled more than 9 million riders.
Did You Know?
The CNE’s previous roller coaster, which was also known as the Flyer, was left in ruins after a near-cyclone swept through Toronto in 1940.
Joe McKee, the designer of the Flyer and hundreds of rides around the globe, said his biggest pride was that he’d thrown millions of couples into each other’s arms. He also enjoyed standing by the exit gate of rides he created to listen to what people were saying. If Mr McKee heard “Where’s my stomach?!” he knew it met expectations.
Joe McKee said maintenance staff constantly found hats, women’s shoes, toupees and false teeth in and around his roller coasters. A dental society in France reported that the denture replacement business soared after Mr McKee’s roller coaster was built in Paris.
The Flyer was also referred to as the Exhibition Flyer and the Rocket Roller Coaster.
During the 1968 CNE, over 400,000 people rode The Flyer.
At the 1972 CNE, the Flyer celebrated its five millionth rider, who received a certificate and a huge stuffed animal.
Wooden roller coasters are also known as “woodies,” and as of 2021, there were only 164 of them out of the 2,398 documented roller coasters in the world.
The restored FLYER roller coaster sign was on display near the Princess Margaret Fountain during the 2023 CNE. It’s illuminated with 710 LED bulbs.
Flyer Roller Coaster Photos
The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: May 20, 1940, pg 5
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper Archives: Aug 7, 1949, pg 64
The Arizona Republic Newspaper Archives: Jul 31, 1952, pg 18
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Mar 3, 1953, pg 4
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 13, 1953, pg 5
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 31, 1953, pg 4
The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Sep 10, 1954, pg 28
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 23, 1969, pg 25
The Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Apr 25, 1992, pg A1
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Apr 29, 1992, pg C1