The last time I went to the Red River Ex, it was about 20 years ago, give or take. I’m not going to admit to my age here, but suffice to say I was much younger then, with a higher tolerance for spinning rides, loud music and deep-fried foods on sticks with nary a green vegetable in sight. Before it starts to sound like I wasn’t the biggest fan, let me be clear: I LOVED everything about The Ex! From the time I was a young child right through to my early adult years, I loved the sights, the sounds, the smells…every bit of it! I looked forward to advance tickets going on sale at Mac’s and, once the teenage years hit, put together the biggest group of BFFs to hit the midway as a pack. We were #squadgoals long before that was a thing.
Favourite ride? Polar Express (whose heart still doesn’t beat a little bit faster when they hear “do you want to go faster?”)
Favorite snack? Toss up – Those Little Donuts or corn dogs. Not sure I could pick just one, even under the most intense interrogation.
Favourite midway game? Duh – Whack a Mole, obviously.
Favourite concert? Cheap Trick circa 1990(ish?) And…I think I may have just given away my age.
You might ask, if I loved it so much, why has it been 20ish years since I’ve been? Well, it’s mostly because I moved away from Manitoba in my mid-20s and didn’t return home (to live) until my late 30s. However, I’ve been back in Winnipeg now for 5 years and with my head hanging in shame, I will admit that I haven’t been back to the Red River Ex since my return. Every year, when I would see the ads start to appear, I would tell myself I was going to go. But life happens, and I just never made it out. So when I was given the chance to check it out again this year, I jumped at the opportunity! I wanted to see how my memories would stack up against today’s reality.
Last time I was there, The Ex was all cramped up in the parking lot surrounding the old Bomber’s stadium. Never any parking, long lines…you remember that, right? Fast forward to the new locale and talk about a major upgrade! There is a brand new west gate (west on Portage Avenue to Festival Drive). Take my advice: use this entrance! There are 2000 parking spots, it’s close to the new west entrance and parking is only $5. This is also where public transit stops if you prefer to take the bus.
There was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia when I walked through the park. All my old favourites were there, but lots of new additions as well. Probably the biggest difference from my perspective, was the amount of space there is on the grounds. The rides aren’t stacked side by side anymore. There is space to move, even in the busy evening when the sun goes down and the crowds start pouring in. I recall not being able to move around the crowds and pushing through lineups to get from the Tilt a Whirl to the Matador (another blast from the past from those of you in my demographic!). Now, the midway is stretched out over such a wide expanse that you can actually spend time walking and seeing other things during your visit.
My 7-year-old son and his 9-year-old bestie spent most of the day racing from one ride to the next, one midway game to the next, one food stand to the next… It was a joy to watch these little ones experiencing the same thrills and excitement that I did when I was their age. I know that from this visit, more lifelong fans of The Ex have been born!
Don’t forget that there are many other things to see and do besides the midway. The Ex did start as an agricultural fair, after all. Check out the Discovery Centre with the cutest display of baby farm animals you ever did see. Llamas, miniature donkeys, silkie chickens, horses, cows…you name it. You can see them and in some cases, can pet them too. Definitely a highlight for the little ones! Don’t miss Pig Tales, an educational display that teaches about the modern day pig farm in an interactive and fun way. And – baby piglets!!
For live shows, the options are endless. Moto Maniacs was our favourite. Think motocross meets Cirque du Soleil, with acrobats hanging off a trapeze attached to a motorbike 30 ft above the ground. Spectacular! Canine Stars is a show that’s been around for years and features rescued dogs who manage to blow your mind with their jumping, dancing and diving. Very entertaining, and you can plainly see that the dogs are in their element and loving being the centre of attention! And of course, the main stage is still the place to be in the evenings with the bands providing loads of entertainment and dancing in the field!
In the end, what did I discover? The Ex has changed A LOT, but at the same time, it’s remained exactly what I remembered.
And I have to admit that I really miss the Ice Cold Root Beer stands. Anybody else remember those? If I could bring back anything from the good ‘ole days, it would be that root beer. Pair a big mug with Those Little Donuts and nothing else compares. THAT is The Ex of my youth. But I digress…
Whether you are an annual Ex-goer or, like me, haven’t been in years, do yourself a favour. Check it out this year. You won’t regret it.