An increase in the number of people attending the first Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) since 2019 is a clear indication that people are longing for a return to normalcy after more than two years of battling COVID-19, said the CEO of the event.
Darrell Brown said attendance topped 1 million in the middle of last week, a 10% increase from 2019.
He says that while the last four days haven’t been their best, they managed to attract around 110,000 people on Sunday, adding that the number could have reached 150,000 if the forecast was right.
“In total, we expect to be between 1.4 [and] 1.5 million people total for the whole fair,” Brown told CBC Toronto.
“It tells me that people are ready to get back to normal, even if there are still risks. They want to socialize and they want to be able to be with family and friends, so that’s a good sign.”
“People are spending a lot more,” says Brown
The CNE was held from August 19 to September 5
Brown says the 18-day distance generally appeals to people of all age groups and income groups, and that still holds.
“So even some of the more sensitive groups, like older adults who might have stayed away, maybe because of the risks of COVID, they didn’t,” he said. .
“The other key thing is that people are spending a lot more. So on an individual basis, they’re buying more from the vendors, they’re apparently staying on the rides longer, spending a lot more on the rides.
“Talking to sellers, they quote between 40% and 100% more than the norm,” he added.
“It was a game of roulette”, says the boss of the union
The CNE had to deal with safety inspectors – represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) – on strike during the fair.
President JP Hornick said she was relieved to see that the fair went off without major incident.
“It’s been a game of roulette. The CNE hired and engaged in a series of self-inspections and the TSSA [Technical Standards and Safety Authority] has embarked on a process of using supervisors who may or may not have been in the field for some time. And they are falling further and further behind the kinds of inspections to make sure Ontarians are safe,” Hornick told CBC Toronto.
“So on the grounds of the CNE, you know, we considered that the work of the strikebreakers. There were people doing the work that should have been done by these certified inspectors and I feel really lucky that nothing went wrong during the CNE.”
A total of 170 TSSA-employed safety inspectors walked off the job on July 21. They have been trading since November 2021.
Union demands include tackling pay inequality, substandard wages and micromanagement.
The CNE facing an uncertain future
Meanwhile, after this year’s success, the CEO of CNE said the future of the exhibition may not be certain.
“We don’t even have an agreement with the city and Exhibition Place at this point in terms of facility usage for next year,” Brown said.
Brown says the Ex may be looking at a smaller event due to redevelopment plans near the Exhibition Place grounds.
He says these include an updated GO station, an expansion of the TTC and a new hotel.
City are also looking to revamp BMO Field ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.