Love for the midway runs in the family

August 15 2017

T he aroma of fried foods oil and damp flattened grass fills Head Lake Park.

The looping track ringing from the speakers of the Jumbo Hot Dog stand adds to the ambience. “Get in line ‘cause you’ve never had a pogo or hot dog like ours. Tender juicy and deeelicious. No wonder those guys from Coney Island keep bugging me about our recipe!”

Haliburton’s annual Rotary Carnival is back in town. On the afternoon of Aug. 9 the track from the hot dog stand can be heard throughout the midway. But once evening rolls around cars are parked down Highland Street as the park fills with the laughter and cries of families; middle schoolers who’ve escaped the watch of their parents; and teenagers taking their significant other on a classic if not cliche date.

Haliburton is one of the more memorable 27 stops for the Homenuik Rides Inc. midway this carnival season as it takes place in the middle of “hell week” as one concession owner calls it.

At 11 p.m. the carnival will close and the crew gets to work on disassembling the rides and shutting down the show hoping to get on the road to their next gig in Campbellford before 4 a.m. Just two days earlier the crew shut down operations in Orillia and made their way to Haliburton with some arriving as late as 2 a.m. Working for the midway is tough – it’s long hours and a lot of physical labour. Yet many of the workers keep coming back year after year.

Ryan Parkinson who owns the Showtime food truck has been working in the industry ever since he was eight when he would help his dad on the weekends with the 10 to 15 game concessions he owned on the midway. “The older you get you either like the business or you hate the business. It’s just that because you’re not in one place for very long” the 44-year-old says as he takes a break on the steps of the food truck across from a skeeball game that his father used to own. “A lot of kids go to the cottage or do whatever my summers were spent on the road. I fell in love with hard work and money … Here it is 30 40 years later and I’m still hanging out.”

Parkinson used to own game trailers just like his father booking space with Homenuik at every carnival throughout the season which runs April through to Thanksgiving. These days he owns food concessions while working full time in Ottawa. His longtime girlfriend Verena Dowe works full time running the trucks while Parkinson joins her on weekends to help out.

“I like the business for sure it’s definitely in the blood” he says. “Travelling around and seeing different stuff meeting different people different personalities that’s part of what I find addicting.”

As he did with his father Parkinson’s two kids worked for him at the midway which isn’t uncommon around the grounds. Randy Homenuik owner and operator of Homenuik Rides took over the business from his father before him.

Kyrstin Gordon 17 works at her father’s ball toss stand now but says she was born into the business doing odd jobs for her dad until she was old enough to work for him.

“She had a choice as to whether or not she worked. She didn’t have a choice as to whether or not she came out” says her father Andrew who started working in the business himself when he was a kid. “She kind of understands that this is what Dad does and if you want to spend time with him in the summer this is where you’ve got to be.”

“I like it a lot I get to meet a whole bunch of different people I get to share the passion of travelling with my dad” Kyrstin says.

This fall Kyrstin will be heading to school but she says she plans on coming to help out her father next summer as well. “It will always be my home away from home it will always be what I love to do it will be my getaway. This is my happy place my safe space that I like to go to” she says.

Corey Burd has been working in carnivals for more than 20 years and has been a professional candy maker for the past 17 years. Burd’s been working in the candy stand for Homenuik since 2011 taking time off from her job at Hampton Hotel in Sudbury in order to do so.

“You get to see Ontario all summer long. It’s like camping and you’re getting paid to do it. What more could you ask for?” she says.

Burd compares coming back to the carnival each year like a kid returning to summer camp. She says the people she meets at the carnival and in the towns she works in are like a family.

“I don’t think I’d trade it for the world. I’ve been trained in banking I do accounting I do a whole lot of jobs this is probably the one I prefer the most.”

At his food truck only about a funhouse’s length away from Burd’s candy stand Parkinson echoes the same feelings.

“Out here you’re kind of like a family. You learn to gel and get along with different personalities and different attitudes and it makes you a better person. As corny as it sounds it really does.”