It's the end of summer vacation, the countdown to Labour Day weekend and back-to-school, which in Toronto also means it's time for the Ex!
A trip to the Ex (CNE) is a Toronto family tradition - a full day out in the sun, midway rides and games and sports, concerts and shows and musicians and acrobats, animals and exhibits and battered deep-fried fast-food everything, parades and fireworks and people people everywhere.
This year, for the first time, we managed to make it to the Ex before the final weekend, when the crowds are so thick you can't see your own kids clutching your hands as you shove shoulder-to-shoulder through the throngs and the lineups so long it takes half the day to get on a single ride. What a difference! No crowds, no lineups, front seats at every show and vendors eager to drape our kids in all the free swag their little shoulders could carry.
This year at the Ex we did the rounds of the Farm building with its farm animals and butter sculptures, corn maze and children's activities, and bronco simulator and tractor rides and live fishing, the Reptilia snake and reptile show and the birds of prey show, and the aerial acrobatic show and street performers before hitting the midway and children's rides.
The sports zone featured free soccer, baseball, badminton, boxing, gymnastics and track and field events for kids to compete in and after a few hours of sports a few minutes in the water play area cooled our little athletes off.
The Splash 'n Boots show was one of the highlights of the day - a live stage performance of one of the younger kids' favourite singing groups, real live Treehouse TV "celebrities" right there in front of them in a fun, energetic song and dance show - as was the circus show, where the kids had a chance not only to watch a real circus act, but were then picked out of the crowd to try out the trapeze and learn and perform a tumbling and acrobatics act for the crowd.
And, as always, the day was topped off with the traditional favourite Mardi Gras parade, a line of floats winding their way through the Ex grounds tossing thousands of strands of shiny plastic beads to eager outstretched hands. This year we staked out our spot at the beginning of the parade route, caught the parade and a few dozen necklaces along the midway, then jogged a short-cut through the grounds to a spot near the end of the route - and caught a few dozen more. The Ex is not the Ex unless we end the day absolutely dripping with colourful bead necklaces!
A train ride around the grounds as the sun dropped behind the skyline and the midway lit the darkening sky and a fireworks show to end the night - a perfect end to a long, fun family day, another summer tradition, another memory made.