Yesterday and Today - July 2022

A family connection at the CNE gates

By Tim Lambrinos

After a two-year hiatus, the CNE will once again be taking over Exhibition Place for 18 days from August 19th to September 5th.

The opening day of the “Ex” will mark the 100th anniversary of the Warrior’s Day annual parade that enters through the Princes’ Gates at 10 a.m.

The CNE itself creates thousands of summer jobs for youths and provides an exciting and thrilling end to the summer. Working 18 days straight with no days off, these individual summer jobs provide a character-building experience for everyone involved.

Many jobs can be a teenager’s first working experience and the whole atmosphere of the Ex provides intense customer service interactions for those lucky enough to secure a job. The jobs range from selling tickets, assisting on a ride or game or being a carnival barker or gate attendant. Or even dishing out prepared food to the many hungry customers wandering around inside the Food Building. Even some pay-duty police officers get to be onsite for a little outdoor air and exercise. All being in the mix of course.

It seems that no one needs to be reminded that the Ex wasn’t open during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. It was only the third time in its 142-year history that the Ex was ever cancelled. The previous cancellations were due to world wars where the CNE grounds became actual military detachments.

Having the Ex back this summer is definitely something that has strong connections to the Lambrinos family. Some people realize that older brothers can often be someone’s first and longest lasting memories in life. At times, a big brother can lead you through life and even become your idol during your upbringing. When my big brother Chris passed away last month, there was an automatic reflection from my sister Alice and me to look back at our lives and how they were positively affected by him. The Ex was definitely one of those wonderful influences that positively embraced our lives.

It was the scene of my brother’s first summer job at the Better Living Centre when he was 12. His job was to return golf balls in a “putt for a trip” contest. It was for a special prize where a hole in one would allow a participant the chance to win a free trip. Chris’ job was to collect the missed putts and return the balls back to the starting point. At $10/ day, he saved up enough money over the fair to purchase himself his first mini-bike later that year. Contrary to my mother’s desires, he bought himself a Yamaha mini enduro for $400.

Chris’ job came to him as a result of my father’s established good standing at the Ex. He had acted as Gate Superintendent at the Eastern Streetcar Entrance for more than 20 consecutive seasons. There, he worked alongside Steve Kutch.

My first job at the CNE was also as a youngster. I worked for two seasons as an usher at the grandstand for evening shows. While working of course, I was able to see many great shows and in particular I got to see Evil Knievel successfully jump over 13 Mack trucks in 1974.

My brother worked during this time period at the streetcar entrance, initially as a gate guard. One of his fellow workers in his first season became his friend and became well known at city hall later on as Chris Korwin-Kuczynski. My brother was dedicated to work at the CNE every season and moved up the ladder and eventually became Gate Superintendent at the TTC streetcar entrance.

The eastern streetcar entrance at the Ex saw many transitions throughout its lifetime. In 1974, the gate ran as a fully-fledged parking lot when all TTC staff decided to go on strike for the Ex. For 1996, the gate ran TTC buses only into the grounds and the public would disembark at a newly created make-shift gate located near the Marine Museum. This was done to allow the National Trade Centre to be constructed during the mid 1990’s. The new building would eliminate the former location of the Eastern Streetcar Entrance that had been situated at the south end of the Coliseum.

And with the opening of the trade centre in 1997, the streetcar tracks were relocated further north, ending up underneath the Gardner Expressway. A new gate for the streetcars was created that combined itself with the GO train gate. The new streetcar gate would then be situated on the opposite side of the Coliseum and Chris Lambrinos became the first gate superintendent.

Chris dedicated himself to the Ex through all of these modifications. His ability as a quick thinker and his qualities of leadership and empathy helped him be flexible and shine throughout the most frantic of different crisis thrown at him. These were qualities that I sincerely admire about my brother and have tried to incorporate into my life too.

When David Bednar of the front office of the CNE’s Board of Governors decided to privatize all gate operations for the ’99 season, he brought an end to the dedication of the Lambrinos brothers and their long-standing connection to the CNE gate operations.

It was a lifelong tradition that actually began when we were children. We have great memories visiting the fair and still can hear the echoing of the midway barker calling out “Doggie, doggie” at the pull a string game. We would line up for the Flyer and the Chum Wild Cat roller coasters that were always the go-to rides of the grounds. And no one could forget the scenic gondola sky-ride called The Alpine Way.

This year’s Ex has its own modified version of the original Alpine Way that is quite popular. And some of the old standards, including the giant swing ride, are still there too.

In our youth, my brother and I remembered hearing former North Yorker, Howie Mandel, as a paid announcer on the Polar Bear Express ride.

He would ask riders if they wanted to go faster. These were the times when the Ex widely promoted itself by handing out free passes to children in their final report cards.

Looking back at those marvelous experiences at the Ex from yesteryear makes people wonder why things have changed so much from the good old days. Some old timers want to feel the same vibe that the EX always seemed to have, way back when. The Ex has gone through many transitions but you can be assured that many of the old traditions are still there. Just take a walk through the food building and grab yourself a dozen of Tiny Tom donuts. They’re still as tasty as ever. Hot dogs, spaghetti and all the foods of the world. They’re all still there. But today’s Ex has actually much more to offer when it comes to food. You just have to go there and see it for yourself.

One thing that has changed dramatically at the Ex is the operations for the Lost Children department. Their office rarely sees any lost children appear in search of parents anymore. It’s because nobody lets their kids venture through the fair on their own anymore. Where in the 1960’s, with on average over 300,000 visitors per day, the Lost Children’s department helped reconnect parents with over 1,000 lost kids a day. In that era, that was the way society functioned. Parents would allow children to search out and explore fascinating experiences on their own and meet up later at a pre-designated spot. The Shell or Bulova Tower often served as a meeting place. This practice was considered by parents to be a character building experience for their child, not one that would demonstrate an “irresponsible” parent as it would today.

Also, at this year’s Ex are the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts football team. They will be playing two separate games during the Ex, on August 20th and on August 26th with kickoffs beginning at 7 p.m. If you’re feeling up to watch the Argos play, there’s nothing like feeling the electricity of the night air followed by the sights and sounds of the midway at night, after the game.

So don’t forget the Ex will be back in town once again. Make an effort to get down there and enjoy it, maybe even a couple of times if you can. Once again, the final weekend of the CNE will showcase the spectacular Canadian International Airshow.

A little bit of advice from a gate insider from year’s past. Plan to get there early.