An older article found on globeandmail.com, be sure to click the link. There are 8, 3 minute videos from the perspective of 8 workers.
The carnival workers of Conklin Supershows don’t see the big-city glam of the CNE or the PNE. From April to October, they travel small towns, setting up shopping mall midways and county fairs. It’s a fading way of life with few rewards. For many, photographer Charla Jones reports, it’s the only road they know.
Pops pays close attention as a group of teenaged boys unscrew the large bolts of the merry-go-round. “Some of these kids put extra grease on themselves to make it look like they’re working,” he says.
He takes another drag from his cigarette, throws it to the ground and picks up the end of a horse. In his 43 years with the carnival, Pops has worked all of the rides and most of the games. Now, he mainly works the merry-go-round or, as he calls it, “the MGR.”
Pops and his crew are in a hurry to dismantle the MGR. They still have to help the rest of the staff of midway operator Conklin Supershows take apart their rides and games. The show needs to be loaded onto trucks and moved to the next location, Alexandria, Ont., a 11/2-hour drive from their current spot in Merrickville. In Alexandria, the cycle will begin again.
The travelling carnival is an increasingly endangered species in Canada. Because of the rising price of gas, the heavy cost of the rides, the lack of employees willing to do the work and the challenge of keeping up with new ways to entertain a fickle audience, many small tour operators have folded.
“There used to be dozens of companies. All of the small ones – they’re done,” says Dave McKelvey, general manager of Supershows.
The Conklin shows are among the oldest carnivals in Canada. The operator once provided the midway at some of the largest fairs and exhibitions, including Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. Now, Supershows owner Jim Conklin, in his 70s, only tours his smaller midway to fairs across Ontario, setting up in the parking lots of shopping malls. From April though October, Supershows will travel to about 25 towns, staying for five or six days before moving on.
It’s a rigorous season, but Mr. McKelvey’s biggest challenge is finding staff to work the carnival. About half the crew is from South Africa. Each year, Supershows brings in about a half-dozen young, educated South African workers. They head home at the end of the season; about half will return the following year.
“You’re working 60 hours a week, you’re travelling and also living with people 24 hours a day, so we have a terrible time finding people from Ontario to work,” Mr. McKelvey says.
The Canadian workers say they typically make from $340 to $400 a week, working from eight to 14 hours a day with one day off. Most live in a room just big enough for a single mattress, six rooms to a trailer. Most of the younger staff have to share bunk beds. The walls are thin, and a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by – spats are a regular part of life, given such tight quarters. Still, some will refer to their fellow carnival workers as family.
Those who decide to work the show do so for a variety of reasons. There are teenagers who have quit high school, transient workers just looking for a day or two of work, and then there are workers who come back season after season.
Ace, a jack of all trades, started working the show when he was 8. Twenty-nine years later, he’s still doing it. “It’s the sound of the thrills. It’s that big generator powering everything and the people screaming on the rides, having a good time. It just draws me here to keep me here.”
Photographer Charla Jones spent 10 days documenting the Conklin Supershows travelling midway last August and September.globeandmail.com