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Northlands Park - Memories Worth Keeping
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Midway Companies

Many fine midway companies have travelled the North American continent, amusing children and adults alike. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, midway companies were still apprehensive about working with agricultural fairs such as those of the Edmonton Exhibition Association's (EEA). However, midways could only be kept back from North-central Alberta for so long. As an 'A' circuit stop, Northlands Park’s summer exhibition midway has now hosted numerous thoughtfully chosen companies. A few of these have been quite remarkable and two have especially become part of Edmonton and Northlands Park's long history.

Johnny J. Jones ExpositionJohnny J. Jones was the first to make a memorable impression on visitors to Northlands Park Klondike Days predecessor, the EEA summer exhibition. In the early 1920s, Edmonton had just begun to experience complete midways, with C.A. Wortham Shows working for the EEA in 1921. The following year welcomed Jones' company for the first time, raising both the EEA’s and the crowd’s expectations for years to follow.

Born in Pennsylvania, Jones was a young Welsh coalminer before he engrossed himself in the more light-hearted affairs of the midway. His entrance into the carnival world came when he took the position of general manager for Jones Combination, an exhibition show company. Midways were struggling to be considered credible entertainers at the turn of the century, but despite the risks involved, Jones decided to take a leap. In 1902, Jones and his business partner took to the road, advertising their midway as the Jones and Adams Carnival Company.

Johnny J. Jones midwayThe experience of sustaining a travelling business provided Jones with important knowledge and a new source of confidence and ambition. In 1903, he formed the Jones Carnival Company. Though he still travelled with his previous partner as the Jones-Adams Exposition Shows in 1904, by 1907, the young Jones was sole owner of the Johnny J. Jones Exposition. It was this new midway company that came to Edmonton in the 1920s, and went on to stay for over a decade.

Conklin Show midwayAnother eminent figure in Edmonton and Northland Park’s midway history is the Conklin Shows company. Like Jones, the company's founder was not born into the business of midways, though it could be said he was adopted into it.

Patty Conklin was born in 1892 as Joe Renker. Originally from an immigrant family in Brooklyn, Renker left home at the age of eight, surviving through sheer wit, selling peanuts, newspapers, and herrings. His midway career was born when he began work as a sideshow talker in Coney Island, New York.

By 1910, Renker was working as a games operator in Texas and Oklahoma. With money to invest, he connected with J. W. Conklin, owner of Clark and Conklin Shows. After several years the company dissolved, but J. W. adopted the young man, who took his adoptive father's name to become James Wesley "Patty" Conklin. Despite some challenges, love for the midway life kept the Conklin family involved in working midways until J. W. Conklin’s death in 1920.

Conklin and Garrett Shows midwayIn 1921, the midway season became a time of transformation. At Patty's urging, he and his family decided to take their talents up to Canada arriving just outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Quickly finding success, the family stayed for the rest of the season and left with a strong appreciation for the country. Patty led a long and hardworking life, renewing dying exhibits well past the age deemed for retirement. After his death in 1970, his son Jim Conklin took charge of the family business.

Patty ConklinHalf a decade later, an upheaval in Canada’s midway contracting provided Jim Conklin with an opportunity to acquire the "A" circuit with the Western Canada Fairs organization, which the EEA scouted potential midways through. He accepted the offer in 1976, marking the beginning of a new chapter in Northern Alberta’s midway history. Since then, Conklin Shows has served the public with the community spirit embodied by Northlands Park.

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