Flyer Roller Coaster – Thrilled Over 9 Million Riders at the CNE

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1970 – The Flyer roller coaster was in operation for 39 years and thrilled more than 9 million riders during the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The roller coaster was designed by Joe "Mile-A-Minute" McKee
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster was in operation for 39 years and thrilled more than 9 million riders during the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)

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?

1972 – An aerial view of the Flyer and Exhibition grounds. When the Flyer debuted in 1953, it was the highest and fastest in the world and cost approximately $185,000 to construct. The roller coaster's designer, Joe McKee, said maintenance staff constantly found hats, women’s shoes, toupees and dentures in and around his roller coasters
1972 – An aerial view of the Flyer and Exhibition grounds. When the Flyer debuted in 1953, it was the highest and fastest in the world and cost approximately $185,000 to construct (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 27)

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?

2023 - The "FLYER" sign on display during the CNE, near the Princess Margaret Fountain on Princes' Blvd
2023 – The “FLYER” sign on display during the CNE, near the Princess Margaret Fountain on Princes’ Blvd
  • 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

August 21, 1972 – The CNE celebrated the Flyer's five millionth rider, who was the woman in the front row of the second car. Notice the photographer in the last row of the first car
August 21, 1972 – The CNE celebrated the Flyer’s five millionth rider, who was the woman in the front row of the second car. Notice the photographer in the last row of the first car (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Association Archives)
August 24, 1974 – An aerial view from Shell Oil Tower towards the Flyer, the CNE Midway (notice the CHUM Wild Cat and the Round-Up) and Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand
August 24, 1974 – An aerial view from Shell Oil Tower towards the Flyer, the CNE Midway (notice the CHUM Wild Cat and the Round-Up) and Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Association Archives)
1953 – The Flyer’s entry/exit platform. When the Flyer came back into the station after its 1-minute and 40-second ride, it came to a sudden stop. This photo was taken during the Flyer's debut year
1953 – The Flyer’s entry/exit platform. When the Flyer came back into the station after its 1-minute and 40-second ride, it came to a sudden stop. This photo was taken during the Flyer’s debut year (CNE Archives)
1953 – The CNE during its 75th year. Notice the Flyer and Exhibition Grandstand in the background
1953 – The CNE during its 75th year. Notice the Flyer and Exhibition Grandstand in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 98)
Between 1955 and 1960s – Looking west on Princes’ Blvd towards the Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer roller coaster once located at Exhibition Place. Both structures were once landmarks at the CNE, Shell Oil Tower was in existence from 1955 to 1985 and the Flyer from 1953 to 1992
Between 1955 and 1960s – Looking west on Princes’ Blvd towards the Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer roller coaster once located at Exhibition Place. Both structures were once landmarks at the CNE, Shell Oil Tower was in existence from 1955 to 1985 and the Flyer from 1953 to 1992 (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Association Archives)
1955 – Racing car ride with the Flyer in the background at the CNE
1955 – Racing car ride with the Flyer in the background at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 414)
1960s – One of the Flyer's two four-car trains. Each train could hold up to 32 riders, and the mighty roller coaster could handle over 26,000 people on a busy day
1960s – One of the Flyer’s two four-car trains. Each train could hold up to 32 riders, and the mighty roller coaster could handle over 26,000 people on a busy day (CNE Heritage)
1964 - The CNE Midway at night. Notice the CNE Stadium sign in the foreground and an illuminated Shell Oil Tower, and the Flyer in the distance
1964 – The CNE Midway at night. Notice the CNE Stadium sign in the foreground and an illuminated Shell Oil Tower, and the Flyer in the distance (CNE Archives)
2023 - The "FLYER" sign on display during the CNE, near the Princess Margaret Fountain on Princes' Blvd
2023 – The “FLYER” sign on display during the CNE, near the Princess Margaret Fountain on Princes’ Blvd
1960s – Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer were once located at Exhibition Place, near where Princes’ Blvd and Nunavut Rd intersect today
1960s – Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer were once located at Exhibition Place, near where Princes’ Blvd and Nunavut Rd intersect today (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 150, Item 13)
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster was in operation for 39 years and thrilled more than 9 million riders during the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The roller coaster was designed by Joe "Mile-A-Minute" McKee
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster was in operation for 39 years and thrilled more than 9 million riders during the annual Canadian National Exhibition. The roller coaster was designed by Joe “Mile-A-Minute” McKee (CNE Archives)
August 20, 1972 – Looking north at Exhibition grounds towards Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer speeding around a left bank turn. Notice the Alpine Way in the background
August 20, 1972 – Looking north at Exhibition grounds towards Shell Oil Tower and the Flyer speeding around a left bank turn. Notice the Alpine Way in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 32)
1972 – An aerial view of the Flyer and Exhibition grounds. When the Flyer debuted in 1953, it was the highest and fastest in the world and cost approximately $185,000 to construct. The roller coaster's designer, Joe McKee, said maintenance staff constantly found hats, women’s shoes, toupees and dentures in and around his roller coasters
1972 – An aerial view of the Flyer and Exhibition grounds. When the Flyer debuted in 1953, it was the highest and fastest in the world and cost approximately $185,000 to construct. The roller coaster’s designer, Joe McKee, said maintenance staff constantly found hats, women’s shoes, toupees and dentures in and around his roller coasters (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 27)
August 20, 1972 – A view from the Shell Oil Tower towards the Flyer roller coaster and the Wild Cat on the CNE Midway
August 20, 1972 – A view from the Shell Oil Tower towards the Flyer roller coaster and the Wild Cat on the CNE Midway (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 28)
1970s – The Flyer zipping around a curve during the Canadian National Exhibition. The roller coaster could reach speeds of up to 65 miles or 104 km per hour
1970s – The Flyer zipping around a curve during the Canadian National Exhibition. The roller coaster could reach speeds of up to 65 miles or 104 km per hour (CNE Archives)
August 20, 1972 – A close view of the all-wood framework of the CNE's Flyer roller coaster
August 20, 1972 – A close view of the all-wood framework of the CNE’s Flyer roller coaster (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 33)
August 20, 1972 – A close-up view of one of the Flyer's two 32-passenger 4-car trains speeding along the ride’s 796 m or 2,612 ft long track
August 20, 1972 – A close-up view of one of the Flyer’s two 32-passenger 4-car trains speeding along the ride’s 796 m or 2,612 ft long track (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 26)
2023 - The FLYER roller coaster sign is illuminated with over 700 LED bulbs. It's shown on display at Exhibition Place during the 2023 CNE
2023 – The FLYER roller coaster sign is illuminated with over 700 LED bulbs. It’s shown on display at Exhibition Place during the 2023 CNE
1970s – An aerial view of the CNE Midway. Notice the Coliseum at the top, the Bulova Tower in the centre and the Flyer roller coaster track
1970s – An aerial view of the CNE Midway. Notice the Coliseum at the top, the Bulova Tower in the centre and the Flyer roller coaster track (CNE Archives)
1976 - Looking north towards the Flyer roller coaster and Bulova Tower from the south side of Lake Shore Blvd W
1976 – Looking north towards the Flyer roller coaster and Bulova Tower from the south side of Lake Shore Blvd W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 129, Item 12)
March 5, 1984 – A snow covered Flyer at Exhibition grounds
March 5, 1984 – A snow covered Flyer at Exhibition grounds (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 102, Item 33)
2023 – One of 18 granite benches commemorating historical places and events at the CNE and Exhibition Place, this one featuring The Flyer roller coaster. They were designed by Toronto-based artist Stephen Cruise and installed in 2007
2023 – One of 18 granite benches commemorating historical places and events at the CNE and Exhibition Place, this one featuring The Flyer roller coaster. They were designed by Toronto-based artist Stephen Cruise and installed in 2007
1955 – Racing car ride on the CNE Midway with The Flyer in the background
1955 – Racing car ride on the CNE Midway with The Flyer in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 415)
SOURCE
  • 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
  • CNE Heritage
  • The Maine Mag: The Legacy of New England’s Tallest Wooden Roller Coaster
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, CNE Heritage & Canadian National Exhibition Association Archives

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