Llamas and Skaters and Ferris Wheels, Oh My!
The most obvious place to start in a kid’s-eye tour of the CNE is the Kids World park in the north-west corner of the fairgrounds. The area is set up around a small park, with brightly coloured little buildings housing activities such as face-painting and pizza-making, and a gazebo where the 1812 dress-up takes place. The busiest spots were the small petting zoo and the circus workshop tent. In general, the activities are geared towards the under-ten age group, although even someone a bit older might enjoy the chance to pat a caiman from Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo (there was also a tarantula out and about but no one seemed all that keen to snuggle it).
(a note here to those interested in visiting Kids World: most of the activities occur on a daily schedule, so planning ahead might be a good idea).
One of the primary kid magnets at the Exhibition is the midway. Or rather, midways, because there are two; a little munchkin version next to Kids World, and the real deal that sprawls along Prince’s Boulevard. In general, the mini midway fits into the Kids World under-ten niche, but even the much bigger, more thrilling rides of the main midway were sorely lacking in the roller-coaster department (technically, there are two, but neither one looks that wild). Both midways require the same tickets in order to ride, and in much the same number; the minor midway rides cost 4 or 5 tickets, while the big midway rides cost 4, 5, or 6, depending on the specific ride.
Working on the premise that children and animals were meant to be together, you should definitely visit the Farm Building, the temporary home of turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, bees, llamas, alpacas, and a pair of slightly sinister ostriches. You can watch sheep-shearing and cow-milking demonstrations, or you can simply wander around reading all the information posters, and staring at the butter sculptures. That’s right, butter. Some people have strange hobbies.
By far the most energetic animals at the CNE were the canine stars of the Superdogs show. Despite the competitive elements, Superdogs is a performance as much as anything else, and a very loud, kid-oriented one at that (bored adults can try counting the number of times the mc uses the word ‘fun’). There were some genuinely impressive feats performed when I was there, especially in the frisbee-catching department. There are even some four-legged show-offs who do back flips off their trainer’s torso.
In an era when life in general seems to be getting more expensive, a great deal at the CNE costs nothing at all. Every one of the dozens of shows going on at the seven different stages is free with admission, and it’s physically impossible to see all of them in one day. However, it’s possible to manage to catch three of the big ones. Terrance B’s hypnotism might bore young or hyperactive children, and those volunteering to be hypnotised must be at least fourteen years old. Ted Outerbridge’s magic, on the other hand, is designed at least in part with a very youthful audience in mind; all of the illusions are big and simple, and the whole show has a cheerful, fairly informal feel to it. Adults may wish for a little more elegance and mystery, but this is the CNE. For subtlety, go elsewhere.
Although less hyper than Superdogs and less personal than Mr. Outerbridge, the skating and acrobatic performances in La Vie! are also very fast-paced and kid-friendly. Given that the show features ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, skating is understandably the focus, but it is in fact eclipsed by the break-dancing and trampoline work.
A few last words of guidance; if you’re thinking of eating CNE food with small children, you might want to bring your own (metal) cutlery. The plastic utensils in the Food Building are not always up to the task at hand. On a more general note, you can download the daily performance schedules for all stages and shows, as well as a map, guidebook, and the combined map and schedule for kids activities (the “family fun guide”) at the CNE website.