CNE Rides & Games – Explore The Midway of the Past

1970s - Enjoying the CHUM Wild Cat ride
1970s – Enjoying the CHUM Wild Cat ride (CNE Archives)

The Midway is a big draw, and while there have 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.

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

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. It was designed by Joe McKee of NYC and 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. The Flyer was in operation for 39 years and 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 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.

Ferris Wheel: The modern Ferris Wheel was invented by a civil engineer named George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. Mr Ferris’s wheel made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chigaco in 1893. The wheel stood 264 ft or 80 m high and had 36 cars which could each hold 60 people. During the 19-week expo, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, over 1.4 million people paid 50¢ to enjoy a 20-minute ride.

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

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.

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

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 that 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 worldwide.

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)

The Midway Games & Prizes

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 1900s were awarded food, hats, plaster statues, and cigarettes. In the 1930s, 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 CNEs, 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, Smurfs and the Barvarian Bear.

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

The History of Stuffed Toys

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 1870s, Margarete found a pattern for a small stuffed elephant in a magazine. She made one for her shop and used it as a pincushion. 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; by the mid-1880s, 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 analog clock that could be seen from a distance. In the early 70s, it became the Bulova Tower, and the clock was upgraded to digital. The tower was demolished in 1985.

Did You Know?

  • From 1942 to 1946, the CNE was not in operation as Exhibition grounds were in military use during 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

1970s – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition
1970s – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1970 - The Flyer roller coaster
1970 – The Flyer roller coaster (CNE Archives)
1953 – Roller coaster at the Midway
1953 – Roller coaster at the Midway (CNE Heritage)
1960s – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
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)
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)
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)
1955 – Midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (
1955 – Midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 414)
1970's - An aerial view of The Midway
1970’s – An aerial view of The Midway (CNE Archives)
1984 – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition
1984 – The Flyer at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 102, Item 33)
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)
1947 – Childrens roller coaster at the Canadian National Exhibition midway
1947 – Childrens roller coaster at the Canadian National Exhibition midway (CNE Heritage)
1902 – Scenic Auto - Dip at the Canadian National Exhibition
1902 – Scenic Auto – Dip at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
Between 1900 and 1910 – Roller Boller Chutes at the Canadian National Exhibition
Between 1900 and 1910 – Roller Boller Chutes at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1937 – Roller coaster and Guillotine show at the Midway
1937 – Roller coaster and Guillotine show at the Midway (CNE Heritage)
Early 1900s - Water Chute ride
Early 1900s – Water Chute ride (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 276)
1974 - The Tornado Roller Coaster, a midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Bulova Tower, originally the Shell Oil Tower, in the background
1974 – The Tornado Roller Coaster, a midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Bulova Tower, originally the Shell Oil Tower, in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 82)
1953 - The Rotor at the Canadian National Exhibition
1953 – The Rotor at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1919 – A midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
1919 – A midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1952 – The roller coaster, ferris wheel, tilt-a -wheel and laff-in-dark ride tickets at the Midway
1952 – The roller coaster, ferris wheel, tilt-a -wheel and laff-in-dark ride tickets at the Midway (CNE Heritage)
1970s – The Zipper at the Canadian National Exhibition
1970s – The Zipper at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives) midway-rides-games-1970s-cne-4
2022 – The Zipper at the Canadian National Exhibition
2022 – The Zipper at the Canadian National Exhibition
1981 - The Polar Express
1981 – The Polar Express (CNE Archives)
2022 – The Polar Express and Ferris Wheel at the Canadian National Exhibition
2022 – The Polar Express and Ferris Wheel at the Canadian National Exhibition
1970's - CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway
1970’s – CHUM Wild Cat ride on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1970s - Enjoying the CHUM Wild Cat ride
1970s – Enjoying the CHUM Wild Cat ride (CNE Archives)
1937 - The CNE Midway
1937 – The CNE Midway (CNE Archives)
1965 – Midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
1965 – Midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (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)
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)
1960's - Round-Up ride
1960’s – Round-Up ride (CNE Archives)
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)
1954 - Striporama on The Midway
1954 – Striporama on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1954 – Dressing for the Striporama show at the Midway
1954 – Dressing for the Striporama show at the Midway (CNE Heritage)
1960s – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
Circa 1930s - Conklin Poster for the Canadian National Exhibition
Circa 1930s – Conklin Poster for the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
Circa 1892 - A muscle-powered Crank Wheel at the Exhibition. This ride was a precursor to the modern Ferris Wheel invented by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, a civil engineer. Mr Ferris’s wheel made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chigaco in 1893
Circa 1892 – A muscle-powered Crank Wheel at the Exhibition. This ride was a precursor to the modern Ferris Wheel invented by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, a civil engineer. Mr Ferris’s wheel made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chigaco in 1893 (CNE Archives)
1950 - The Double Ferris Wheel at The EX
1950 – The Double Ferris Wheel at The EX (CNE Heritage)
1972 - Double Ferris Wheel with the Derby Racer in the background at The Ex
1972 – Double Ferris Wheel with the Derby Racer in the background at The Ex (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 55)
1900 - Ferris Wheel at the CNE
1900 – Ferris Wheel at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1956 – Top of the Ferris Wheel at the CNE with the Shell Tower in the background
1956 – Top of the Ferris Wheel at the CNE with the Shell Oil Tower in the background (CNE Heritage)
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)
1972 - Crowds at the CNE with Ferris Wheel, Zipper, Bingo and Casino buildings in the background
1972 – Crowds at the CNE with Ferris Wheel, Zipper, Bingo and Casino buildings in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 94, Item 58)
Between 1950s and 1960s – A night view of the Ferris Wheels at the Canadian National Exhibition
Between 1950s and 1960s – A night view of the Ferris Wheels at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 232)
1912 – The midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition
1912 – The midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
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)
1940 – The midway at the Canadian National Exhibition
1940 – The midway at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1960s – Two pals at the midway
1960s – Two pals at the midway (CNE Heritage)
1940 - Fun on The Midway
1940 – Fun on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1966 - Entrance to the Alpine Way
1966 – Entrance to the Alpine Way (CNE Archives)
1970s – The midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
1970s – The midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1960's - Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy
1960’s – Winning a Mister Panda stuffed toy (CNE Archives)
1974 - Midway rides and games
1974 – Midway rides and games (CNE Heritage)
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)
1904 - The Midway at the Exhibition
1904 – The Midway at the Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 341)
1899 – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition
1899 – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
Circa 1930 – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition
Circa 1930 – Midway show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1930 – Shows at the Canadian National Exhibition
1930 – Shows at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
1930s – Midway shows at the Canadian National Exhibition
1930s – Midway shows at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Heritage)
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)
1981 - Age and weight guesser
1981 – Age and weight guesser (CNE Archives)
1935 - Weight guesser
1935 – Weight guesser (CNE Archives)
1936 – Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Weight Guesser booth on the right
1936 – Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Weight Guesser booth on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 11532)
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)
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)
1954 – The CNE Midway with the Coliseum in the background
1954 – The CNE Midway with the Coliseum in the background (CNE Archives)
1972 - A view from the Shell Oil Tower observation platform
1972 – A view from the Shell Oil Tower observation platform (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)
1963 – Children’s midway scooter ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
1963 – Children’s midway scooter ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1960s – Enjoying a midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – Enjoying a midway ride at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1940 - Conklin Shows poster
1940 – Conklin Shows poster (CNE Archives)
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