Back in 1965 when the annual June Red River Exhibition summer fair (sadly cancelled for this year) was held around the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football stadium north of Polo Park, Ex organizers introduced what was heralded at the time as Canada’s first ever Teen Fair. Situated in the east parking lot of the Arena, Teen Fair was the brainchild of Barney Shane and Al Blanc, two enterprising young local entrepreneurs who sought to tap into the burgeoning youth market at the height of Beatlemania and catch the excitement local live bands generated.
In a fenced in circular area on the Arena east side parking lot, some forty booths were set up offering various teen-oriented activities and promotions. Opening each day at noon, the real attractions were the three stages boasting non-stop live bands from 6 pm to midnight. Sponsored by radio station CKRC, IGA Foods, and Monarch Wear, whose locally-produced Tee Jay blue jeans were the hippest threads in town, the entertainment featured some of the city’s top bands including The Quid, Crescendos, Shondels, Vaqueros, Pallbearers, and D.G.N. and the Unchained.
“As kids we had all gone to the Ex, so it was a real thrill to be playing at the Ex,” recalls Vaqueros singer Ron Simenik. The format fostered a bit of competition between the groups.
“It was a strange situation because they had bands facing each other and it felt like a battle of the bands,” laughs Crescendos drummer Vance Masters. “It was fast-paced because while one band was playing, the other would be setting up. There were lots of kids and everyone was having fun.” A dance area was designated in front of each stage allowing teens to boogaloo to the beat. Ex organizers estimated some 20,000 teens took in the Teen Fair between June 18 and 26 despite the occasional downpour.
“It was a huge boost to the local talent to have that exposure,” states Crescendos singer Glenn MacRae, “not only for people from the city but for all the rural people who came in for the Ex and didn’t otherwise get a chance to see all these local bands. It really helped the ‘star appeal’ of the local groups.”
As Gloria Benoit remembers, “Everyone went to see the bands. My friends and I went every night and would all stand in front and watch them.”
Besides the music, the Teen Fair included a tomato throw (five tosses for a quarter), a slot car racing track operated by Cross Country Raceways, and the ever-popular car bash where teens, armed with sledgehammers, took out their frustrations on three dilapidated jalopies. But it wasn’t all mindless thrills. Various businesses and educational institutions like the Manitoba Commercial College, the Canadian military, and Junior Achievement manned information booths.
A nightly draw of a transistor radio was offered as well as a chance to win the grand prize, a Ducati motorcycle. CKRC radio personalities including Doc Steen, Boyd Kozak and Harry Taylor served as rotating hosts each evening giving away dozens of 45s. The station also ran a contest, the coveted prize up for grabs: the four Beatles’ autographs procured during the Fab Four’s brief refueling stop in Winnipeg the previous summer. Seventeen-year-old Benoit was the elated winner.
“I probably put my name in the drum about a hundred times,” she chuckles. “They made the draw the next day on the radio and Boyd Kozak showed up at my house that morning with the autographs.”
On the final day, popular CJAY television show Teen Dance Party broadcast live from the site. There was even a beauty pageant culminating in the crowning of Miss Teen Fair.
Teen Fair returned the following year though on a slightly smaller scale with three bands – The Orfans, Shondels, and Toronto band The Secrets – on one stage and fewer booths and displays. Monarch Wear used the event to promote their new line of Tee Kay jeans (“J is out, K is in!”) with the opportunity to meet Miss Tee Kay, diminutive local singer Lucille Emond, in person. Miss Community Club was crowned on the final night.
Renamed Shindig-A-Go-Go in 1967, the magic was gone. Although the Ex continued to feature local bands in various locations over the next few years, they never recaptured the excitement of the Teen Fair.
“It was a very unique event,” reflects Glenn MacRae.