CNE and the death drive

the cronut burger makes sense in the context of a final meal

In honour of the last day on the CNE, releasing this paid newsletter to everyone. Happy Labor Day.

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First a little history. The CNE was founded in 1879 on the site of an 18th Century French fort. Buildings of CNE are historical and heritage protected, though unfortunately under-utilized the rest of the year (that’s a subject for another newsletter).

The CNE was modeled after other exhibitions in Europe and North America which were very popular back in the day and a symbol of national ingenuity (the Eiffel tower was built for the Paris exhibition). They drew crowds in the millions who came to see new innovations unveiled - such as Shredded Wheat and lightbulbs - before the era of mass media.

Fun fact: the Chicago exhibition of 1893 was home to the first Ferris wheel (named after its inventor, George Ferris). It was the also the site of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers who then ran away with 3 kids to Toronto and killed them here. But anyway, moving on.

Throughout its years of fun rides and showcases of modern inventions, the CNE had other weird and dangerous novelties drawing the crowds such as the high-diving championships where competitors would leap from 80 feet into the icy waters of lake Ontario, sometimes setting themselves on fire before doing so. This would have been interesting to see, but they stopped it after a bunch of people died or were seriously injured.

Then there have always been stories about the dangers of the CNE: planes falling from the sky or rides malfunctioning and killing people. And it’s those stories and the nostalgia for riskier times, real or invented, that I think keep luring people back.

Death and funions

The CNE has a long and storied history with death and accident, which isn’t quite that sensational if you consider how long it’s been around for and how many things can possibly go wrong when dozens of carnival rides are assembled under the cover of darkness by dubiously trained/monitored individuals. In fact, considering engineering and safety standards throughout the years, it’s a surprise more people didn’t die.

Biker jackets and torn jeans seemed to make up their uniforms in the old days; they'd flick the switch to power on the machines, the sparks would fly out of the control panel, and they'd turn to share a smoke and chat with their friends for about twenty minutes. 

I remember riding the Flyer, and look back fondly at the bits of wood that flew off it as we rode ~ that was a real thrill ~ the definite chance that the whole ride may come crashing down around you before your ride was over.  When we were younger, it seems like we took our lives in our hands just getting on those things, and it made it all the more exciting. 

-Richard of Toronto Then and Now

I couldn’t find any specific figures of how many people have been injured or died at the CNE in the last 135 years but even in recent years it certainly seems like a lot!

My search got me this far:

  • In 1999, 2 dozen children were hurt. 

  • In 2004, 24 people were sent to the hospital after a ride malfunction. 

  • Again in 2004, one person was seriously injured.

  • In 1998, a man went bungee jumping and the harness broke so he was launched 130 feet up, then straight onto the pavement. 

  • 7 pilots died during airshow crash of 1995 and there have been at least 6 crashes before that.

Of course pre-90s there must have been many deaths and injuries though they have all been hushed up by the funion lobby (I couldn’t find anything on google).

(Aside: so the CNE doesn’t own any of the rides, it just rents the rides from a midway provider, who also provides the same rides all over north america to other fairs. It’s not surprising that when you assemble and deconstruct a complicated machine with many moving parts around the continent a bunch of times, something may go wrong. Frankly, I fail to understand how this is legal.)

Also There are GHOSTS! There is a guy conducting ghost tours of the CNE and he’s written 5 books about the ghosts haunting the grounds - workers or visitors who have been unwitting victims to the fair.

Honestly I think the organizers should play up the dangers of the CNE more, get more of these nihilistic millenials out since nostalgia, transience and risk of death are at the core of its appeal. CNE PR ppl, my dm’s are open, let’s talk.


Then of course there is the food at the CNE, another outrageous, delirious, ridiculous tradition. Calling it food feels wrong, because it’s more akin to biological warfare than human consumables.

Like seriously, what the fuck is this?

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And here too danger lurks. Not just the danger of clogged arteries, indigestion of diarrhea - no the danger here is imminent death.

In 2013, 300 people got sick eating the cronut burger. Who could have guessed.

In a culture of salad bowls, keto diets, fermented drinks and microgreens, the CNE’s take on food is an enormous fuck you.

It’s vulgar, primitive and grotesque. The absolute opposite of organic cotton and pilates, it’s the baseness of human lewd desire unchained.

Since you’re not sure you’ll be making it out alive after a few spins on the Blitzer, why not indulge in a last meal of cornflake bacon ice cream burger, wrapped in a burrito of cotton candy and deep fried in butter.

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In year 2019 of our lord we are assaulted by the ungodly rainbow grilled cheese (seriously, why?) and something that truly frightens me to the core as a human being:

a "Snickle dog", a hot dog wrapped inside a tortilla with pickles and a Snickers bar, then deep fried. 

Every day we stray further from god’s light.

I don’t have personal history with the CNE. I didn’t go to it as a kid, and had only started going in my twenties, at which point I was sufficiently rational to be terrified of the rides and grossed out by the food. Still, I really like the CNE, as it rips through our sanitized city for a week with its pastiche of outlandish and makeshift novelty.

I haven’t been back in a few years, but if they let people set themselves on fire and then leap into lake Ontario, I’ll be sure to show up, and maybe even brave one of the rides.

Besides, dying by being launched from a Ferris wheel into a rainbow grilled cheese is somehow perfect for our current moment.