August 10, 2022


Take a step back in history with THEMUSEUM’s travelling carnival exhibit.

Step Right Up: The Travelling Carnival in Canada looks back on how this country’s travelling carnivals and midways have shaped our entertainment and agriculture. It all started when two men met back in the 1920s. Originally they performed shows across the U.S., but they decided to move their act to Canada.

“Conklin and Garrett were partners, and the carnivals began with them in Canada,” said David Marskell, CEO at THEMUSEUM.

Conklin and Garrett left their home country to do tours around Canada. The shows didn’t do well and they were ready to pack up and move back. They took one last chance and joined a rag-bag show, which was being performed in St. Boniface, a town located just outside of Winnipeg.

As their act grew in popularity, so did their circuit ranking, meaning they would be paid more and could work for bigger circuits. Their show grew to include animals and “freaks.” Most of what was used as entertainment then would be frowned upon in this day and age.

“They had freak shows, a girl would turn into a gorilla and the Jolly Fat Boy,” said Marskell. “It’s interesting looking back and seeing what our society thought was OK.”

Not only have carnivals’ displays changed, but during the Great Depression, instead of winning a plush toy from a game, you would win food or other household items.

In THEMUSEUM’s exhibit, you will find many original artifacts from travelling carnivals that show how they have developed over the years.

“The many vintage displays and trinkets included in the exhibit … embody the carnival’s atmosphere in a nostalgic, kitschy, and sometimes uncanny, way,” said Jenna van Klaveren, the brand, communications, and digital manager at THEMUSEUM.

Behind a wood barrier, machines and artifacts from early 1900 carnivals include a popcorn machine, original Ferris wheel seat (made with rope), merry-go-round horse, gorilla-lady sign and a hot peanut cooker.

“The Step Right Up: The Travelling Carnival in Canada exhibit is the origin stories of the carnival,” said van Klaveren. “It demonstrates the ways in which the carnival of the past was positioned very differently than the carnival of today; the lengthy and complex history is often forgotten, or many times not even known, by many people today. It’s interesting to look into the origin of something that today is largely regarded as fun and entertaining.”

THEMUSEUM will be running the carnival exhibit until Labour Day weekend as a part of their celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

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