Going to the Canadian National Exhibition is an anachronism. Devised 130 years ago as a way to bring the country to the city and the world to Toronto, its intended purpose has long ago been eradicated by factory farming and the communications revolution. There are no longer farmers in fields tending crops and livestock, bringing a taste of their daily lives for cityfolk to gawk at. And the world is beamed directly into our brains, either by TV or the internet or the government in cahoots with the aliens. So, devoid of purpose, the Ex merely exists as a remnant of a time when life was slower and had fewer voices shouting for our attention.
I visited the Ex today. It’s an annual tradition with my own ex. Dayna loves the Exhibition and, after missing it the first year we were together, we have been every year since. After we split up, it became an activity through which we bonded as friends and it remains that today. We spent the day talking about people we’re seeing (or would like to be), home maintenance, work issues, our pets, current affairs. What we saw was almost irrelevant. It was a day out. We could have been in a pub, playing mini-golf, or watching the lake from Balmy Beach. Instead, we saw warehouses full of kitsch, the Superdogs, just enough of the Food Building, and the RCMP Musical Ride.
Let me take a moment to talk about the Musical Ride. Most people know that I lived in Ottawa for four years doing my undergraduate degree. In all of that time I never once saw the Musical Ride. Admittedly, I have no idea whether it is performed in Ottawa more frequently than anywhere else in the country. It is, however, an aspect of Canadiana that one who has lived in our capital expects to have experienced. And, let me tell you, if you haven’t, you are missing something. Steeped in pomp and circumstance, the effect of witnessing its performance is similar in feeling to the pride an American must feeling on seeing a military funeral. The U.S. buries its honoured dead with grace and tact. In Canada, we’ve used those characteristics to adapt our British heritage into something that’s our own and still powerful. There’s no point in trying to describe it in more concrete terms — it would just sound like a horse show. You have to see it. I only wish I had experienced it being performed for a foreign head of state in a venue less stereotypically Canadian than a minor-league hockey arena.
But back to the Ex. Among the above-mentioned kitsch Dayna and wandered through was a seller of organic catnip-laced toys. Such is the kind of thing one finds at the Ex (and, seemingly, only at the Ex). It could be cat toys, or chamois cloths, or miracle mops, but there is a segment of our consumer culture that finds its only lucrative home at the Ex. I’m still not sure what that means or why that is. But, I do find it intriguing. Almost as intriguing as my cat, Cocoa, who is, at this moment, opening my backpack to get at the catnip toy I brought home for her and her sister.