September 21, 2009

Musings on amusement parks

The third weekend in September is what is locally referred to, with varying degrees of enthusiasm in our house, as 'Fall Fair Weekend'. In the six and a half years we have lived in Agassiz we have learned one should not plan birthday parties for that weekend unless they do not want any kids to come, to avoid driving the shortcut to Harrison Hot Springs because it goes right by the fair (which causes worse traffic than an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge), and to feed the kids before you go the Fair otherwise you will end up buying four dollar hot dogs, five dollar snow cones, and small, six dollar bags of warm, greasy, cinnamon-y mini doughnuts in addition to the typically exhorbitant cost of the rides. My youngest daughter describes the experience aptly as 'a fun ripoff ', mind you, there is much more to the Fair than the amusement park. Adults can enjoy live (generally country) music in the beer garden while they visit with old friends. There's a tractor pull, a parade, a goat milking competition between local dignitaries which usually includes the mayor and a school principal, 4H competitions, an Elvis impersonator, and the annual crowning of the Corn King or Queen - not a beauty competition, but actually to award the grower of the best corn. The Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival is a huge highlight for the local farmers, many of whom have lived here long enough to have roads named after their families. The Fair is a meeting place, a celebration of the harvest, and a chance to relax after the rigours of summer...

But back to the amusement park thing...I've never been one for amusement parks and carnivals. Once a year in Nelson, where I grew up, a travelling amusement park would come to town. Lots of kids would go every year, but for me, one ride on the Salt and Pepper Shaker was enough to last a life time. When I was in grade seven, I went with my dad to Vancouver to visit relatives. My Grandad treated us to a day at the PNE and invited my uncle's step-daughter, Denny, to come with us. Grandad bought us what seemed like five foot long strips of tickets and let us loose on the park. Not being an experienced rider of rollercoasters, I sought the more benign rides like the octopus, the train, etc. and was quite happy with these until my more experienced step-cousin's patience wore out and she coaxed me onto the old wooden rollercoaster. After lining up for enough time to get really scared, it was our turn to climb into one of the little cars. After all the cars were full, we started to climb slowly up, up, up the first slope. "This is no big deal," I thought. We reached the top and my stomach lurched - we were so very high! The coaster paused at the summit before plunging with great force straight down. Gravity lifted me right off the seat with only the metal bar to hold onto - no seat belt, no five-point harness like on modern roller coasters. I literally believed I was going to die. I think I screamed, but perhaps I was too terrified to scream. The rest of the ride was a blur and when we finally came to a stop and Denny hopped out, I found I could not move. My body would not get itself out of the car. I couldn't even speak, and the operator had to come over and help me out. Denny ran off to another lineup, most likely for the Salt and Pepper Shaker, but I staggered off the platform and sat down on a bench to get my bearings. It took seven carousel rides to calm myself down, and after the seventh I was relieved to have used up all my tickets.

When I met up with my Dad and Granddad again, my dad asked me to go on the Ferris Wheel with him. I had recovered from the roller coaster and agreed to go on the Ferris Wheel. Besides, I had been on one before, and after the experience I had just had the Ferris Wheel would be nothing. When the wheel started turning and my Dad was telling me about his childhood memories of Ferris Wheels, he put his hand on mine. "You don't have to hold my hand, Dad, I'm not scared," I said. He smiled and said, "Oh, but I might be." On the way back to my Grandparents' place in Whiterock, Denny and I sat in the back of Grandad's big brown Cadillac, feeling every rise and fall of the road in our stomachs.

My family's participation in the Agassiz Fall Fair and Corn Festival varies from person to person. My oldest likes to go with all his friends on the Friday night when the carnival is alight in the dark and all the kids from miles around have come to scream their heads off. My second son, much like my husband, can't be bothered with the amusement park part of the Fair at all. He doesn't like rides and gets disgusted with the unfairness of the games. My girls and I enter baking, crafts and artwork into the agricultural exhibition and this year was no different. The prizes are modest amounts of money which the girls, in previous years have put towards the cost of their wrist bands for unlimited admission on the rides. This year, the girls didn't want to spend their money on rides, but my little one expressed a desire, on Saturday night, to go on the Ferris Wheel, so I treated her to a ride with me. Dusk was just starting to descend on the day and the lights of the Fair glowed like old fashioned Christmas decorations. The carny buckled us into our bench and as the wheel began to turn I put my hand on Katie's. "It's okay, mom, I'm not scared," she said. As our bench rose to the top of the wheel I felt my stomach fall and I had to look straight ahead. As the wheel turned I told my daughter about the time I went on the Ferris Wheel with my dad and what he said to me. I felt exactly the same way as he must have all those years ago, and I realized that just because I'd once ridden the famous wooden roller coaster at the PNE, it didn't mean I wouldn't be still unnerved by the height of the wheel. After a few turns I could relax and enjoy the view - and it was beautiful - but I kept on holding Katie's hand. Just in case.


  1. Mine was a ride where you stood in a circle around the inside of the outside edge of a platform that went up, leaned over and back and all the time went round and round. Having always had vertigo and not able to stand on the edge of a cliff or anything like that...I was petrified...and for once Speechless! You brought back lots of memories. Love Mom

  2. Well, Mom, I guess these things are genetically transferred - as you well know, there is very little that can render me speechless.

  3. I've actually been to the Agassiz Fall Fair! Two of my friends in university were from Agassiz (Jenn Heal and Nicole Dyck), and I spent the weekend there - must have been in like, '89.


  4. Was Elvis there that year? Michael Jackson made an appearance this year, too, although I wasn't lucky enough to see him.

  5. Well Sheena, we know Nicole and Jenn VERY well:) Rebecca, Bob and I went on the old roller coaster at the PNE last summer and I guarantee you it will be my last ride. I spent the whole way down the first slope thinking, "Don't have a heart attack! Don't have a heart attack!" I didn't remember being that scared the last time I went on it! Our family always gathers Fall Fair Weekend so that's what makes it special for us. It was nice to put in my grandchildren's art work and baking this year as well. They love the tradition and I guess that's what really counts for me:) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, I kind of miss those days when we 'did' the fair together, the kids and I...guess I'll just have to wait for grandkids :) Katie's actually a bit sad to have missed doing something to enter. Maybe next year!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!