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Toronto Sportsmen's Show

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Back Again…

Many years ago Judi and I attended the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show as exhibitors. This year we were visiting it for Ontario Festivals Visited. Back then most of the show back then was held in the Coliseum and the Horse Palace buildings. I don’t think we’ve been back since we were exhibitors, so the thought of going back to see all the changes was exciting. When we were exhibitors the Direct Energy Centre hadn’t been built. It was a bright sunny morning when we left Cobourg. We had picked Judi’s nephew, Zack, who was accompanying us on this excursion. We had left early to try to avoid the long show line-ups. Out drive to Toronto was uneventful and we made good time getting to the CNE grounds. Unlike the “old days” we were able to park our vehicle in the underground parking garage under the Direct Energy Building.

We walked up a short flight of stairs and entered the Centre's main foyer. It was pandemonium! There were people everywhere! The whole length of the foyer was jammed with people lined up to buy tickets for the show. From past experience we knew that there would be a large line up, but surpassed our expectations. It certainly reflects on the popularity of the event! Undaunted, we wound our way to the media office. The gentleman that we had been corresponding with was there. I introduced myself and we talk a bit about the show. According to show publicist, Karl Eicher, the show (now in its 4th day) was well attended and things were running smoothly. From the calm of the media room we entered the amazing world of the Sportsmen’s Show…

Boats and More…

On leaving the media room we spotted a Show kiosk. Here we were able to obtain a show guide and take a look at the giant show map. Just by looking at the map we suddenly realized how massive a show it was! We headed to east end of the building towards the boats. It was amazing to see the number of brands that were being offered, manufacturers included Lund, Crestliner, Yamaha, Larson and Cutter. The variety of types of boats was just as impressive, including pontoon boats, runabouts, fishing boats and sport boats. People looking for a boat to purchase must have been in boat heaven! During our walk about, I met an old friend from Peterborough. He use to work for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, but now works for Lund boats. We talked a bit about the past, but he was busy, so we moved on. Later we would run into him again and take some photos. At the eastern most part of the area was the Toyota display. I must say it was very impressive. They occupied most of the back wall. Their area included, of course their vehicles and truck, but also a casting tank, children’s play area and best of all, a “reel” fishing pond stock with live fish! Show attendees were invited to try their hand at catching (and releasing). While we were in the area, the line up was quite long. This was obviously a popular attraction! It was now time to move northward, we heard the dogs barking…

Dogs and More…

Just to the north of where the boats were being displayed, was the All Star Dog Show. To get to the stands, however, we had to pass a variety of different booths and attractions. As we first walked in there was a display of travel trailers and truck tops. Then there were several rows of different products being sold, framed art, sunglasses, clothing, dog products and more. There was a booth selling Girl Guide cookies! I must say that I was tempted, but eventually passed. Now it’s your turn to feel guilty! The further into the area, the more there was to see! There were lots of activities, especially for kids. There was the paintball range. Our nephew proved to be a crack shot. Then there was the Ontario Federation of Anglers & Hunters “Kids Zone”. It had a lot of fun games and activities. There were the elephant and camel rides and then the “Yamaha motorcycle Riding Academy”. In the middle of it all was the area that showplace the Dog Events, “All Star Dog Show”, “Dogs with Jobs”, “Big Air Dog Jump” and “The Retriever Trials”. We were in time to watch the All Star Dog Show. As always, it was great fun and the crowd loved the skills and antics of the dogs and their handlers! The speed with which the dogs were able to travel the skill course was amazing. It made me wonder if our “Springer” would ever be able to manoeuvre a course like that! I’m sure she could if they had food and rest stops along the way! On our way out we discovered another shooting range, this time with pellet guns, but the best discovery was the “Happy Feet” booth! They were offering the cure to every “Festival Nomad’s” curse… feet that hurt and a back that ached! My problem for sure! Having seen the All Star dogs in action, we decided to go next door to the Dog Breeders Showcase area…

The Show Ring…

We moved next door to the Dog Breeders Showcase. On the way we passed dog food products, dog care products, leashes, collars and finally a “human” cafeteria. The Toronto Sportsmen's Show Showcase area was lined with rows of booths, each housing different breeders and breeds. This area was much calmer than the other areas we had visited. People were quietly standing talking with one another or bending over to acknowledge “Man’s Best Friend”. Out in the middle of the room two show rings had been set up. Judging was taking place in both rings. We looked as handlers straightened legs, heads and tails! The judges watched as each dog took its turn parading around the ring, proud to show off in front of family and strangers alike! From the breeders area we moved south to a different building. This area was devoted to outdoor information, both in the form of government booths and a large “Outdoors Seminar Stage”. As we moved through the maze of booths, we came to a larger booth that was the domain of several magnificent birds of prey. We had just arrived at the Canadian Peregrine Foundation (CPF) booth. While we were there we had the opportunity to talk with Foundation Director, Mark Nash. The booth was very popular, so we didn’t have much time to talk with Mark. However, in reading the Foundations website, I was interested to learn that after a pair of Peregrines arrived in downtown Toronto and started to nest a “dedicated group of volunteers who banded together to rescue the fledglings when they got into trouble (which happened repeatedly). From among this group, several individuals joined forces to launch the Canadian Peregrine Foundation (CPF) and in late 1997 CPF officially became incorporated as a national charity dedicated to assisting and documenting the recovery of the peregrine falcon and other raptors at risk across Canada.” The work of the Foundation has continued since then and will now have a home at the Kortwright Centre for Conservation located in Woodbridge. “The Canadian Peregrine Foundation's Birds of Prey Education Centre is being developed both as a facility for housing CPF's educational birds, and eventually as a destination for the public to learn about endangered species, the environment and conservation issues affecting Canada's endangered birds of prey.” We left Mark and his birds to continue our exploration. The maze of booths continued, Pure Ontario Maple Syrup, clothing, hats, log homes, fishing tackle and finally a large, long casting pool. We watch for some time as an expert caster demonstrated the fine art of casting accurately (without hooking himself or anyone else!). It was a big show and time to move on…

The Great Outdoors…

The next area we entered was a labyrinth of great outdoor booths. They included everything from fishing equipment, canoes, white water rafting and antique outboard motors! Our tour started at the canoes. The cavalcade of colours was amazing! A demonstration pool had been set up where an expert demonstrated the manoeuvrability and versatility of the canoe he was in. In nearby booths lodges and adventure tour companies displayed their unique attributes by playing videos of past clients enjoying themselves. A little further on a spa company had set up their different spa pools so that visitor could imagine themselves relaxing, enjoying the swirling of the warm water as they sipped a cold beverage! We passed people trying to “reel” in the BIG one! Actually they were in a simulation area where they could practice their catching and landing skills. High above, attached to ceiling girders was a large sign announcing the “Great Ontario Salmon Derby”. The sign told us that there was $450,000 worth of prizes. The "Orillia Perch Festival" was there with a booth. The one booth that really caught my attention was the “Antique Outboard Motor Club Maple Leaf Chapter”. On display was a variety of old outboard motors, Johnson, Evinrude, Mercury and some that I had never heard of. As I viewed the different motor my mind drifted to my boyhood in the summer where I would explore the inlets and shores of Little Lake Boshkung in my cedar runabout and 5hp Johnson outboard. Reluctantly we left the club’s display and came to the casting pond. Here Toronto Sportsmen's Show visitors tried their mastery at casting. People of all ages and experience were on stage with rod and reel in hand. We passed a very unique wooden row boat. I wondered who would purchase this type of boat. Since a good portion of this section was devoted to boating, it was appropriate to have the O.P.P. Marine unit there answering questions. The Boating Exam booth was close by. Here you could take your boating exam and earn you boating licence at the same time! Shimano and Le Baron were both there displaying a wide range of fishing equipment. Perhaps the most fun we had in the area was visiting and talking with the fellows at the South Simcoe Railway. Their President and chief engineer, Eric Smith, told us all about the “Little Railway That Could”! The South Simcoe runs between Tottenham and Beeton. The train is normally pulled by a very famous little steam engine (not Thomas), but at time of writing it is in a thousand different pieces and, unlike Humpty Dumpty, is being put back together again, hopefully in time for the season opening in May. I plan on calling Eric to arrange an Ontario Festivals Visited visit and then will write more about this unique attraction then. Having covered fishing and the “Great” outdoors, it was now time to “tackle” (pun intended) the “Hunting Hall”…

The Hunting Hall…

We passed under the huge “Hunting Hall” sign into the world of all things hunting. The first set of booths we encountered belonged to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). My old friend Dave Pind was behind the counter giving show attendees information about the Federation. Further along on the side wall was the “Archery Test Drive Centre”. There was a long line up of budding archers waiting their turn for a “Test Drive”. Next to the Archery Centre was the “Hunting Hall Stage” sponsored by the OFAH. Here hunting experts told audiences of their hunting experiences. Beyond the stage smaller booths took up the remainder of the space. There were all types of hunting and shooting products and participants. I counted at least four hunting and conservation group, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Ruffed Grouse Society of Canada. A number of outdoor magazines were there, including Ontario Out Of Doors and the Great Canadian Sportsman. At the south end of the hall an exhibition featuring North American wildlife was set up. The exhibit was courtesy of a private museum. One of the museum’s spokespersons told that the museum travels throughout Canada educating all that view it. Other booths included Le Baron and Fishing World, each displaying an array of hunting and fishing products. The Canadian Sports Shooting Association had a booth which appropriately was across from the Canadian Firearms Program booth. Down the aisle from these booths were two of my favourites. The “Old West” was presented by the Wesley Wilmington Sportsman Club and the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). There plenty of “old style” cowboys in the booth. Across from them was an ad hoc re-enactment group who brought the 1700 and 1800 back to life. Judi and I love historical re-enactment events and attractions and this group was able to tell me where all the interesting re-enactment were taking place. We will definitely include a number of them on this year’s visit schedule. On the other side of the room we walked past the Summit Treestands booth. There sales staff was sitting suspended in the air demonstrating the strength and versatility of their tree stands. Further along Donalda Corcoran and her staff was handing out samples of Donalda’s Beef Jerky. Beside her was the Ontario Chief Firearms Office booth. People were lined up asking questions about Ontario’s firearm regulations. Next was the Ruffed Grouse Society of Canada’s booth. Artist Eddie LePage  was in the booth helping the Society by signing and selling framed decorators prints. The final booths were two laser shooting booths operated by the Ontario Federation of Anglers & Hunters. Both my nephew, Zack, and I tried our hand at shooting the video targets. I am sorry to say Zack was a much better shot! We had really enjoyed the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show with all its exhibits and displays, but we were tired and ready to go home.

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