A Farm Kid’s Reward

Down we would go to the CNE, with horses, food, and family squeezed in tightly.

June 17, 2013 | | Back Issues | Community | Departments | Headwaters Nest | In Every Issue | Summer 2013

Last summer, I was sitting in a bar in Toronto with the after-work crowd in their summer suits and smart jackets while I waited for my evening class, enjoying a drink with an old colleague and feeling quite grownup. My friend asked me the oddest question, one that took me right back to my childhood.

“Do you know about the CNE?” he said.

“Of course I know about the CNE,” I replied.

He sipped his imported beer. His eyebrows rose.

I was surprised by his question. “Why wouldn’t I know about it?”

“Well, you’re a farm girl. You grew up in the sticks. I thought the CNE was a Toronto thing.”

I can’t recall if I suppressed my laugh.

It starts next week, he said. He was going to take his kids to the midway. They were going to go on the Polar Express – did I know the Polar Express? He missed the days of the Flyer – had I been on the Flyer? His boys loved the Food Building where all forms of meat were served on a stick, and copious amounts of candy could be collected in bags – did I remember taking a dollar bill in and coming out with a bag of chocolate bars?

The CNE has long signalled the end of the summer in southern Ontario. Oh, how the country kids, the ones who grew up in the sticks, revelled in the days of summer and counted down to the opening of the CNE. The long days of July and August had passed with nothing to do, spent staring at the sky. I would sneak to the gravel pit at the back of our property to suntan with as little clothing on as possible. I would watch the occasional airplane overhead and wonder if the pilots could see me in my near nakedness. That was the most glorious and exciting thing to do in those days.

Sometimes I stole my father’s Benson & Hedges Menthol 100s. I lit them back in the gravel pit, having no idea how to smoke, or even wanting to – just wanting to watch them burn because it was something to do to pass the time. The smoke curled up in a hypnotizing way, hanging in the air and burning my nostrils. That may have been the highlight of the week, if not the entire summer so far.

Not all mothers had their driver’s licences in those days. There were no play dates for farm girls, and there were no camps or trips to the library for working farm families. No computers, no television, no downloads at your fingertips. Do your chores as necessary, and otherwise disappear. My father worked in the city, but there was no connection to it for us kids – until the CNE was set to start.

When the big event was a week or so away, there was a flurry of activity around the farm. Clean the horse trailer from top to bottom. Use the wide broom to push the hay and manure out. Then spray it all out with the hose. Wash the bridles and saddles with saddle soap, and polish the silver trim to a shine. Take all the horse blankets to the laundromat in town, being careful not to be caught by urbanites giving you cut-eye in disgust. Oil the blades on the horse clippers and then give haircuts to all the animals – and family – that needed them. Make sandwiches consisting of egg salad, ham and cheese, then be sure to double wrap in waxed paper and plastic wrap, and pack snugly into the cooler.

Down we would go to the CNE, with horses, food, and family squeezed in tightly. I would beg to arrive through the Princes’ Gates. Nothing was more glorious than the moment on a hot summer evening when that architectural entrance came into view through the truck windshield. It was the signal we had arrived. We would be there for the week.

We watched the shows as our parents jumped jumps, and showed off the perfect conformation of muscled geldings and stallions. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

Did we know the CNE? Yes, we knew the CNE. It was our reward for being farm kids all summer long with nothing to do.

Alongside the blare of the midway, the lure of Tiny Tom’s hot cinnamon doughnuts and the jeers of “Do you want to go faster?” from the Conklin crew, the agricultural side of the CNE was where we lived and breathed.

We groomed the horses to ready them for shows, picking hooves and braiding manes and tails. We ran under bleachers. We watched judges with clipboards in hand, eyeing up cows in their stalls, their hides vacuumed and groomed meticulously. While the cows methodically chewed and stared into space with sweet liquid eyes, breeding contracts for the next year were negotiated.

We watched the shows as our parents jumped jumps, and showed off the perfect conformation of muscled geldings and stallions. We counted ribbons and displayed them on hangers. Between shows, we emerged into the sunlit midway for a break, but were never too far from the cool concrete of the Horse Palace for long.

After long days of competition, the families staying at the CNE would set up their overnight camps by taking over a stall or two or three, laying down hand-knotted carpets and popping up director’s chairs, assembling generous displays of fruit and wine and cheese and crackers. Drinks would flow until well past midnight. Laughter echoed through the stallways, the sound of the payback for a long, hard season of farming and showing.

We snuck through to other farm camps and stole things to eat. We ran about, up way past our bedtimes. Eventually, the horses dozed and listed to one side, their keepers and riders also ready to sleep in their cots or in their trailers.

My Toronto friend laughed at me.

“You slept at the CNE?” he asked.

“Indeed, we did.”

His eyebrows raised again.

“Oh, maybe you don’t know about the CNE,” I said. “You grew up in the city.”

Dirty and Delicious

As your summer gets underway, it’s time again for our summer camp listings. Visit www.kidswww.inthehills.ca for the latest and greatest camps in the Headwaters Region. There is something for everyone, from drama and physical sports camps, to dirty gardening sessions, to delicious local food and cooking camps. Swing by to find a camp for your “kids in the hills.”

Galloping Towards the Pan Am Games

The Town of Caledon will celebrate the official Two-Year Countdown to the Pan Am Games on July 10 by throwing a party at the Caledon Equestrian Park at 200 Pine Ave in Palgrave. Caledon will host the equestrian component of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. At 5:30 p.m. the open house begins, followed by the official kick-off at 6 p.m. with fun for kids and the entire family. Come and meet local celebrated sports artist David Arrigo as he presents his mural depicting the games. Afterwards, join in a barbeque, an equestrian demonstration and other activities as the sun sets on the Caledon hills. This is a free event. www.caledon.ca/panam

Hot Summer in the City

Midnight Madness in downtown Bolton takes place on August 16. Why travel to the big smoke when you can experience a historical downtown fair right here at home? The madness will bring a petting zoo, historical horse and wagon rides, demonstrations from Caledon firefighters, street performances and live music, entertainment, street vendors, and all sorts of food for the whole family. Have fun at this wonderful street fair. www.bolton.com

High on a Hill…

From goats to bats to a magic box, there’s great children’s theatre happening this summer. Theatre Orangeville Young Company’s Sound of Music, Stellaluna in the park with life-sized puppets, and Pandora’s Box all promise to thrill children and those at heart. See www.kidswww.inthehills.ca for details.

Fair Enough!

And finally, we can’t miss mentioning all the other wonderful community celebrations and fairs that take place in the hills from now through September. You’ll find them all listed on our events calendar at www.kidswww.inthehills.ca.

Kids In The Hills

Our website always offers a fantastic round-up of activities, sorted by interest, for you to discover. If you know of an event that should be included, simply submit it using the form on the website. It’s free and easy, and we reach thousands of readers every month.

Also, if you have a family-related idea, question or struggle that you would like me to write about, drop me a line at [email protected].

Take care and enjoy the summer while it lasts!

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.


1 Comment

  1. What a great article aboout the CNE. It brings back so many memories. I grew up in Toronto in the 1950’s and I still love the CNE and attend each year without fail. When we were small we also loved the free food samples that were given away and the free book covers and rulers for school. As a small child, I always wished I could enter something there to win a ribbon or a prize. When I viewed the quilts and artwork in the buildings there, I often vowed to find out how to enter for next year. This never did happen. When we moved to Bolton in the 1980’s I discovered the Bolton Fall Fair. Here was a place where anyone could enter and there were so many catergories to choose from: photographs, art, baking, sewing, woodworking, antiques, chickens and goats, and a huge variety of vegetables and flowers – whatever your interest might be – there were so many categories listed in the fair booklet each year. I do still love the CNE and all it’s grandeur (I love the parades, the exhibits, and the atmosphere) but the Bolton Fall Fair gives me a chance to take part, volunteer, and hopefully win a prize. I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world.

    Diana from Bolton on Jul 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Reply

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