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Northlands Park Midway History

Wild Animal ArenaLike many North American cities that had been clamouring to get a sight of midway excitement, Edmonton had its turn for the first time in the early 1920s.

Although midway elements had begun to appear as early as 1912, they had not yet become a stand-alone component of the exhibition. However, with the acceptance and demand for more carnival amusement, the EEA transitioned from hiring various small independent acts to booking midway companies.

Midway groundsAs the EEA's profile rose regionally and nationally, it achieved 'A' class status in exhibition circuits, meaning that it had almost weeklong festivities that drew large crowds. This classification allowed the volunteer association to have its pick of midway offerings to choose from. EEA volunteer W. J. Stark held the position of manager at the time and represented the organization's needs at the Western Canada Fairs Association meetings.

Crouds moving through the midwayVying to get rewarding business, various midway company owners exchanged letters with Stark on a regular basis, some of them hoping to gain favour and have their business selected for Edmonton’s grand event. Many correspondents wrote abbreviated and formal letters while others tried to befriend the EEA manager, sometimes offering charmingly presented bribes that were promptly and diplomatically declined by Stark. Mail containing a collection of midway promotional items would also arrive in Stark's office spilling slick advertising and rudimentary sketches of what fun could be attained through various companies. Such was the exhibition's profile and the desire for EEA business.

Finally the midway arrived in Edmonton. Over a stretch of about 427 metres, the EEA's midway covered a long and isolated avenue east of the association's racetrack and extended onto a grassy field. It was self-contained, with its entrance usually being marked by a highly decorative arch to welcome throngs of excited fun-seekers into the exhibition grounds.

Midway rideThe six-day event occurred in mid-summer, allowing plenty of time for interested people in the community to experience the rare rides and sideshows. Midway companies would usually arrive the day before the exhibition was to open, and with adept movements, have it ready to meet crowds the following morning.

In 1920, Johnny J. Jones arrived in the city with an entourage of 45 railway carloads. This sizeable luggage was not terribly uncommon, as in 1930 Morris and Castle arrived with 47. To create a fantastic setting for people to engross themselves in, many components were required.

Of those companies that passed through the EEA's permanent exhibition grounds in the early days, Johnny J. Jones' Exposition was the most popular in Edmonton. With the exception of 1921, when C. A. Wortham Shows was contracted, Jones' company provided the EEA's winding path of spectacles. A key to his success was his keen sensitivity to changing desires. Jones had a talent for seizing what piqued curiosity and had the foresight to replace attractions waning in popularity.

Exhibition workers During the 1920s, certain shows presented by the EEA in the annual exhibition became standards of the decade. Such acts included diving and synchronized swimming performances, the showing of people categorized under the catch all 'human oddities' category (which might now seem bizarre and unacceptable), illusions, daredevil stunts, and trained animals. Incidentally, a bizarre and gruesome addition that was highly sought by attendees after debuting at Edmonton’s 1925 midway was a wax museum demonstrating criminals committing felonies.

More light-hearted distractions came in the form of mechanical rides. Visitors to the EEA exhibition grounds could experience a dizzying treat with the merry-go-round (also known as the Derby Racer), the acclaimed speed adventure known as the Whip, the soaring seaplane and butterfly rides, or a scenic railway that would travel the sites.

Midways have a long history and their arrival in the Edmonton Exhibition Association reflects the organization's responsiveness to popular culture of the day. The annual exhibition went on to maintain the midway as one if its key attractions.

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