CNE Rides & Games – Explore The Midway of the Past

1970 - The Flyer roller coaster
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster (CNE Archives)

The Midway is a big draw and while there’s been rides and games at The Ex for over a century, one big name that comes.to mind is Conklin Shows. In 1937, the world-famous travelling amusement company began providing and operating the games and rides that thrilled at the Canadian National Exhibition. For over six decades, Conklin brought CNE-goers of all ages excitement and fun on rides like the Polar Express, CHUM Wild Cat, the Tornado, Swing Tower and the Zipper. Today, those same great rides and games are provided by North American Midway Entertainment, the company that purchased Conklin Shows in 2004.

Classic Rides at The Ex

The Flyer: Patty Conklin of Conklin Shows was contracted to build the roller coaster which made its debut in 1953. Designed by Joe McKee of NYC, it was said to be the “fastest in the world” (at the time) and could reach speeds up to 65 miles or 104 km per hour. The mighty roller coaster cost $200,000 to construct and was 796 m or 2,612 ft long. In operation for 39 years, the Flyer thrilled more than 9 million riders. It was demolished in 1992.

Alpine Way: Built in 1966, the ride featured two aerial lines of suspended cable cars that were over 30 m or 100 ft above The Midway. The ride was torn down in 1994 to make way for the Enercare Centre. In 2012, the Sky Ride made its debut at The Ex and it transports visitors over 12 m or 40 ft in the air, across Exhibition grounds.

Wild Mouse: This one was once thought of as the scariest ride. The small cars taking erratic, tight, flat turns from way up high then plunging. It got to some pretty high speeds on the drop.

Sky Diver Ferris Wheel: This one tipped riders through crazy barrel rolls.

The Rotor: Riders defied gravity in this ride that used centrifugal force. It was over 15 m or 50 ft high and was first introduced in 1953. Once the upright barrel ride was up to a full speed of 33 revolutions per minute, the floor dropped and riders were left stuck to the wall. When the ride was finished, the revolutions slowed allowing riders to gradually slide down the wall to the floor. Those that didn’t want to ride could watch from atop.

Tilt-A-Whirl: The random yet predictable chaos of this ride was invented in 1926 by Herbert Sellner. A woodworker by trade, Mr Sellner mounted a swivel chair on a table in his kitchen. He then rocked it back and forth with his son in the chair. The child was so delighted with the ride, he went on to create the Tilt-A-Whirl inspired by the simple kitchen experiment. The Tilt-A-Whirl was first debuted at the 1927 Minnesota State Fair and to this day, the ride is a staple at amusement parks around the world.

The Midway Games & Prizes

Games along The CNE Midway
Games along The CNE Midway (1974 City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 95)

Games like Whac-A-Mole, Water Race, Skee Ball, Duck Pond, Balloon Darts, One in Wins and Ring-A-Bottle tempt walkers-by with the pride of winning a coveted plush toy. And, the harder the game, the bigger the prize. But before the stuffed animals, lucky winners at fairs in the early 1900’s were awarded with food, hats, plaster statues and cigarettes. In the 1930’s during the Great Depression, grocery items like ham, sugar or tins of coffee were given as prizes since necessities were more important.

During the more recent CNE’s, it takes twenty-six tractor trailer trucks to deliver 270,000 stuffed toys for prizes each year. Some of the most popular plush prizes are Pikachu, Smurffs and the Barvarian Bear.

The History of Stuffed Toys

1960's - Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy
1960’s – Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy (CNE Archives)

The origins of stuffed toys are thought to have begun in Germany by a businesswoman named Margarete Steiff. When Margarete was a child, she contracted polio which left her legs paralyzed. She overcame her challenges and became a skilled seamstress. Ms Steiff operated a shop where she sold felt clothing and household items she made. In the 1870’s, Margarete found a pattern for a small stuffed elephant in a magazine. She made one for her shop and used it as a pin cushion. She noticed when customers came to her shop, their children loved playing with it as a toy.

Ms Steiff began producing the tiny elephants as toys and by the mid 1880’s, her company had sold over 5,000 of them. The Steiff Company that Margarete founded over 140 years ago is still in business today making all kinds of plush toys.

1960's - Shell Oil Tower at Exhibition grounds
1960’s – Shell Oil Tower at Exhibition grounds (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 150, Item 13)

Shell Tower

While it’s not a ride, the tower had a great observation deck. It was unveiled in 1955 and featured a huge analogue clock that could be seen from a distance. In the early 70’s, it became the Bulova Tower and the clock was upgraded to digital. The tower was demolished in 1985.

Did You Know?

  • At one time, the Midway was located on the north side of the Coliseum where the Gardiner Expressway stands today (see images 8 and 24).
  • During the years 1942 to 1946, the CNE was not in operation as Exhibition grounds were in military use for World War II. So in 1942 and 1943, Patty Conklin took his rides and games to Riverdale Park and presented the “Fair for Britain”.
  • There are over 60 rides on The Midway and more than 110 games.
  • See how fashion has changed throughout the years at the CNE and on The Midway.

CNE Rides & Games Photos

1953 - The Rotor at the Canadian National Exhibition
1953 – The Rotor at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1970 - The Flyer roller coaster
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster (CNE Archives)
1895 - A hand-cranked Ferris Wheel at the Canadian National Exhibition
1895 – A hand-cranked Ferris Wheel at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1981 - The Polar Express
1981 – The Polar Express (CNE Archives)
1970's - CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway
1970’s – CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1970's - Plaid pants and T-shirts on the CHUM Wild Cat ride
1970’s – Plaid pants and T-shirts on the CHUM Wild Cat ride (CNE Archives)
Early 1900's - Water Chute ride
Early 1900’s – Water Chute ride (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 276)
1937 - The CNE Midway when it was on the north side of the Coliseum, where the Gardiner Expressway stands today
1937 – The CNE Midway when it was on the north side of the Coliseum, where the Gardiner Expressway stands today (CNE Archives)
1972 - The Midway and Alpine Way at the CNE
1972 – The Midway and Alpine Way at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 69)
1960's - Round-Up ride
1960’s – Round-Up ride (CNE Archives)
1972 - Double Ferris Wheel with Derby Racer in the background at The Ex
1972 – Double Ferris Wheel with Derby Racer in the background at The Ex (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 55)
1950 - The Derby Racer
1950 – The Derby Racer (CNE Archives)
1974 - CNE Midway in front of the Groovy Games booth
1974 – CNE Midway in front of the Groovy Games booth (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 95)
1953 - The Flyer roller coaster
1953 – The Flyer roller coaster (CNE Archives)
1972 - The Flyer and Exhibition grounds from Shell Oil Tower
1972 – The Flyer and Exhibition grounds from Shell Oil Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 27)
1954 - Striporama on The Midway
1954 – Striporama on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1900 - Ferris Wheel at the CNE
1900 – Ferris Wheel at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1935 - Weight guesser
1935 – Weight guesser (CNE Archives)
1972 - The Sky Diver and Midway from Shell Oil Tower
1972 – The Sky Diver and Midway from Shell Oil Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 24)
1970's - The YoYo ride at the CNE
1970’s – The YoYo ride at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 102)
1970's - The Alpine Way ride and Shopsy's deli on The Midway
1970’s – The Alpine Way ride and Shopsy’s deli on The Midway (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 63)
1966 - Entrance to the Alpine Way
1966 – Entrance to the Alpine Way (CNE Archives)
1967 - Ride on The Midway
1967 – Ride on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1960's - Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy
1960’s – Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy (CNE Archives)
1955 - Roto Rocket ride on at the CNE
1955 – Roto Rocket ride on at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 417)
1950's - Knife throwing on The CNE Midway
1950’s – Knife throwing on The CNE Midway (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 104)
1936 - Ferris Wheels in motion at the CNE
1936 – Ferris Wheels in motion at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 11531)
1904 - The Midway at the Exhibition
1904 – The Midway at the Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 341)
1972 - Overhead view of Exhibition grounds and The Midway
1972 – Overhead view of Exhibition grounds and The Midway (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 22)
1955 - Bumper cars behind the Grandstand at the CNE
1955 – Bumper cars behind the Grandstand at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 415)
1972 - Crowds at the CNE with Ferris Wheel, Zipper, Bingo and Casino buildings in background
1972 – Crowds at the CNE with Ferris Wheel, Zipper, Bingo and Casino buildings in background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 58)
1981 - Age and weight guesser
1981 – Age and weight guesser (CNE Archives)
1972 - Vertigo and CHUM Wild Cat rides at the CNE
1972 – Vertigo and CHUM Wild Cat rides at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 41)
1978/87 - CNE Midway game
1978/87 – CNE Midway game (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 363, Item 6)
1970's - An aerial view of The Midway
1970’s – An aerial view of The Midway (CNE Archives)
1967 - Conklin Shows "Conko the Clown" near Alpine Way at The Ex
1967 – Conklin Shows “Conko the Clown” near Alpine Way at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1964 - The CNE Midway at night
1964 – The CNE Midway at night (CNE Archives)
1960's - Shell Oil Tower at Exhibition grounds
1960’s – Shell Oil Tower at Exhibition grounds (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 150, Item 13)
1972 - A view from the Shell Tower Observation Deck
1972 – A view from the Shell Tower Observation Deck (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 16)
1953 - Duck Pond, Balloon Darts and other games along The Midway
1953 – Duck Pond, Balloon Darts and other games along The Midway (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 101)
1940 - Fun on The Midway
1940 – Fun on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1910 - "Racing Coaster" at the Exhibition, designed and built by Lynn Welcher Construction Co
1910 – “Racing Coaster” at the Exhibition, designed and built by Lynn Welcher Construction Co (CNE Archives)
1940 - Conklin Shows poster
1940 – Conklin Shows poster (CNE Archives)
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