Monday, August 25, 2014


This is a repeat/updated blog I wrote several years ago about the EX.
Enjoy it again.
The Canadian National Exhibition is on. Like the first crocus in the spring announcing summer’s coming, the CNE is our yearly reminder that summer is on the wane. As a kid in the 60’s I started to count the “days of freedom” as the Ex began. It was a happy thought that one day during the run of the Ex I would actually be there- on the Exhibition Grounds. It was a sad thought that in a couple of weeks-or less, I would be on school grounds.
The Exhibition meant a lot to me. I loved being there on the shore of massive Lake Ontario. Sparkling blue water to the south. Toronto’s skyline to the north. When the city began to light up at dusk and the traffic flew along the Gardiner Expressway on a warm Exhibition evening, I remember thinking it just doesn’t get any better! I wondered what living in the city would be like. Of course I would find out in later years. I still love Toronto and I still love the CNE- if only for the memories.
What memories they are too. I saw Uncle Bobby at the CFTO “Glass” TV Studios that sat along Princess Way in the early 1960’s. That was a big deal to see “live” TV, and an even bigger deal was the year that Colour TV made its country-wide debut.
I owe it to the CNE for my Career in Broadcasting. Tagging along with my parents I let them do their thing while I would spend hours watching the antics of the announcers at the radio stations’ “ Live” remote broadcasts. All the big stations were there.
CKEY 590-The Good Guys in the CKEY Circus Wagon.  Toronto’s “Hit” Powerhouse 1050 CHUM. CHUM always had that prime spot right inside the Princess Gates. I watched from a distance being too shy to actually speak to the DJ’s. Remember John Spragge, and Duff Roman (he was on CKEY too!)? There was Jungle Jay Nelson and Brian Skinner. Oh- the Chummingbirds with Bob MacAdorey. They even performed on the stage at the back of CHUM’s CNE Studio. The Chum announcers broadcasting “live” daily from the other side of the glass.
As I watched I knew that this is what I wanted to do and be- a Broadcaster.
I never actually worked for a station that Broadcast from the CNE but I did work for a country radio station- CHOO, that Broadcast from a horse show called “QuarterRama” from the Exhibition Grounds. Close-but no prize.

A few years back I did a “fake” TV News bit at the CBC Newsworld Booth in the Better Living Centre. That was fun and I still have a copy of the tape they made for me. It wasn’t broadcast live to the country or anything but when I got home I fully expected my phone to ring. An agent calling, wanting me to replace Peter Mansbridge. It never happened.
The Canadian National Exhibition meant climbing the Shell Tower to look
out over the Exhibition Grounds and the lake. It meant drinking glass after glass of Honeydew Orange. It was my father taking us to the horse stall where he slept when the Ex housed the “boys” before they left for War. I cherish the memories of my Dad taking us to the exact stall where he slept waiting for the call to leave for Europe. It was quite moving.
It meant seeing the animated Fat Lady on the Mile-long Midway beckon you to ride and “Laugh in The Dark”.
The Ex was the “Wild Mouse”, a small “mouse-shaped car on a track that slithered several stories high and then took a sharp leap down again. What a ride. You had to hold tight your “felt” Exhibition Hat with the Purple Peacock Feather and your name etched in silver sparkle.
The Wooden Rocket was a thundering roller coaster ride through twists and turns.
Remember “the Derby Racers”? Those huge, colourful horses that stood this high and moved “like the wind” round and round in that huge space that housed them at the far end of the Midway. I can still feel the warm, candy-floss tainted wind in my face. Gee, you really had to hold on tight because those things really moved!
There was smell of the Tiny Tom Donuts cooking in the Food Building. Probably 50 cents a dozen back then. Free samples were everywhere. There were amazing new inventions and products to buy at the International Shoppers Market. That hot iron never slipped from the tilted ironing board-hard as the demonstrator tried.

Nights under the stars at the Exhibition Stadium featured Bob Hope, Anne Murray and Frank Sinatra. Daytime thrills in that same stadium with the Hell Drivers. Relaxing at the Bandshell listening to a huge orchestra bathed in “cool blue” stage lights. I even bought a plant or two at the Horticulture Building directly in front of the Bandshell.
On Lake Ontario it was “Aquarama”. Oodles of finely-muscled young men holding other young men- ladies too, aloft as they maneuvered the choppy waters of Lake Ontario Red Maple Leaf Flags in hand. A stirring, patriotic sight!
I would watch the Water Show several times and still want more. Those were the days when men wore nothing but a Speedo and a pair of skis. None of this sissy-wet suit/lifejacket stuff today. Just bronze bodies glistening in the hot August sunshine. Can’t you just smell the water and the suntan lotion?
Today there’s a different odour coming from Lake Ontario.
The CNE used to host 3 million fairgoers a year in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s. Now about 1.5 million enter her Princess and Dufferin Gates.
The rest of them just don’t know what they’re missing do they?
Go to the EX before Labour Day because stepping inside the CNE Grounds is like discovering your very own “fountain of youth”!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I don't know what made me cry more...

That Grandmother in British Columbia who was losing herself to dementia and ended her own life in a peaceful, loving, serene way or that young reporter- beheaded by a terrorist, who quite possibly is a British Citizen gone awry.

Both stories are sad.
Perhaps even shocking to most.

Life really is wonderful-
most days.
Sure, we all have bad days when we long for something better like peace and tranquility.
However, at times peace and tranquility remain out of reach, like they are on another planet. Still, we have to make the best of what we have.

I completely understand that Mother/Grandmother's actions. Rotten, unforgiving dementia was snatching her away from those that love her. She had some happy, final, heart-wrenching times with them all and then earlier this week decided she was through.

Years of dependency in a care home loomed large.
Memory loss.
Soon she wouldn't be able to read a book.
Watch TV.
Take a walk.
It was time for her.
She passed in the outdoors in a space she loved.
I'll bet the angels swooped down and carried her away to a safe place.

Then, that reporter who was filmed before and during his execution by those fighting for what they believe is the right way.
The executioner- who had his face and body covered in black clothing, leaving just a pair of deranged, insane eyes peering out through a slit in the facial covering- could be of U.K birth.
Someone born in the U.K. turning their mind inside out and following this bunch of religious-based fanatics.
Religion based?
You bet your sweet ass.
My thoughts go to his family. They just wanted him home.

As we go about our daily ways, people are being enslaved, blown up, beheaded, stoned, murdered, stabbed and savagely beaten and killed. It's hard to fathom that these horrors happens in our world as we stand in line for our large Tim's- with milk.

I think about it at times.
We enjoy a nice sunny day.
Take a bike ride.
A walk.
Go shopping or spend an evening with friends, yet a few hours flight time away it's an entirely different world with different rules, different beliefs and no sense of just how wonderful life can be.

Then, I think about some of the folks I see every day in Orillia who don't take advantage of what is right on their doorstep. They would rather live in a world of drugs, booze, welfare, fights, welfare, dirty living conditions, handouts, welfare and disrespect.

One doesn't have to go far from Orillia's downtown to see it.
Experience it.
It's all there.

So, the joy of living happily in this world is not for every human on earth but is for those of us who see, understand and appreciate what this world has to offer.

I may start to cry...again.

Monday, August 11, 2014


Good Gosh…Aren’t we lucky? 

Here we live in the beautiful, small-yet sprawling, city of Orillia. We have two lakes and a nice downtown where green canopies of leaves stretch cross Mississaga Street in the summer sun, creating a shady place to sit and linger for a while.

We have parks and trails for walking and biking.
We have a miniature train for the kids and Festivals along our waterfront and Downtown streets.
We have big box stores and locally run shops.
We have sports fields and a hockey rink or two. Of course, we have no major rec facility-yet, that brings all these activities together under one roof.
It’s Orillia’s curse. 

We also have “heart”- a warm, good community with heart. Orillia always has had “heart”.
Yes, we have all these things and more.
Here’s the more.

For a city of 30,000 people and an area serving 75,000, we have two summer theatre companies.
That’s right. Two!
Have you taken notice?
We have the Opera House, the historic old gal that sits quietly next to the glass fa├žade of our new library and we have The Orillia Stage Company at the OCC on Colborne Street- the former Orillia Cinema 4.
This is quite a fantastic accomplishment for a City of our size. 

Both companies/facilities offer an assortment of “live” theatre shows.  We’re approaching mid-August but there’s still plenty of time to go to a show.
Hundreds of people from out of town take the time. 

Buses pull into Orillia throughout the week from the big city.
The occupants visit the OPP Museum and the Leacock National Historic Site.
Many stay in our local hotels, Inns and B&B’s.
They marvel at Champlain standing high atop that rough-cut boulder, hat in hand.
They have lunch at a local restaurant.
They tour Lake Couchiching and our Downtown.
Many see a “live” theatrical show and they rave about it afterwards. 

Maybe Orillians are missing something?
Real people, performing for real audiences, in real theatres?
Not many communities can offer this to visitors and locals alike.
Plus, it’s cheaper than you might think. Summer theatre always offers special prices for groups.
There are 2 for one nights and occasional coupon specials.
Call the theatres to ask what’s available and just go see a show.  

Takes the kids and let them experience the world of “live” theatre. Yes, there is a world beyond video games, hockey and soccer. People- actors we call them, standing on a stage telling a story or singing a song. Not Television or a Blu Ray DVD or a Movie.
It really happens right on stage- right in front of an audience. 

Currently, the Orillia Opera House is offering Vegas Knights. Derek Marshall serves audiences some Sammy, Dean and Frank. Cool summertime entertainment .Colin Stewart leads the band. The show runs until August 30. Call the Box Office 705.326.8011 and take in a show- in air-conditioned comfort. 

The OCC at 64 Colborne Street has Nunsense. A “bunch” of Nuns who go “bananas” and they do it all for laughs. Sherisse Laurence, Paige Tuddenham-Kitchen, Amy Moodie, Meaghan Ing and Michelle Bailey- the Sisters of Hoboken. Renee Cingolani is the Music Director with Jason Thompson (Sister Jason) handling lights and sound. Sister Mary Margaret is the “show hostess”, keeping audiences laughing and “in line”. The Orillia Stage Company Box Office number is 705.242.8011  

A friend once said- “All theatre is good for all theatre”.
In the same manner- all theatre is good for all of Orillia.
If you’ve never been to a live theatrical show before, this is your chance to see two shows right on your doorstep. 

Support summer theatre because it’s all part of the Heartbeat of Orillia.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014


I have never been a Nun before...

Until now.
I am not even sure how it happened.
A week ago I go down to the OCC to help Mary Lou and Jo Anne usher and carry on front of house duties.
I decide to take a nun costume along with me- just for the fun of it.
The Garage Door Players have 5 of them. I thought- "they are not funny locked up in a plastic bin. Maybe if I wear one while ushering it'll promote some chuckles."

Anyway, Mary Lou asks me to go on board the buses bringing folks to the show just to welcome them and explain what the OCC is like inside- the lay of the land if you will- and where the washrooms are in relation to the theatre.

One things leads to another.
I get this Scottish/Irish accent going and my name appears out of the blue as "Sister Mary Margaret" and- A Nun is Born.

Actually in a show a few years ago, my buddy Hank mentioned that his sister was a Nun, so it all fits.

Since that first show it's been a "heavenly" blast.
I am polishing my craft.
Doing standup.
Thinking on my feet. Nothing is scripted.
It all comes from my mind. I talk to the theatre-goers.
Make them laugh.
Tell a joke or two- all before Act I.
Sister Mary Margaret is now the "Show Hostess"

Then I "man"- or..."Nun"... the refreshment counter at intermission.
I ask for tips in aid of "The Orphans of Sierra Leone."
One show I managed to take in $19.50.

They like me...they really, really like me!

So, now I am in for every show until August 23rd.
I have been added to the programme.
I have a photo up inside the lobby.
Three weeks of being Sister Mary Margaret.

So come along a buy a ticket. Box Office is 705.242.8011 or come to the
theatre at 64 Colborne Street, East- Downtown Orillia.