2002 Convention - Toronto, Canada
They came from California, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan for three days that turned out to be outstanding. Those arriving the day before took a tour of this fantastic city aboard the "Red Rocket," an antique trolley younger than most of those present, tour guide - CHS President Al Stencell. The convention was dedicated to the late Walter Tyson, the only Canadian charter member, who was CHS member number two. Photo: Al Stencell.
The convention began with Richard Reynolds' paper, "A True Herd of Giraffes, Barnum & London 1881-1882." Next came Dave Price with "Rome Wasn't Billed in a Day," being made up from his recollections of his days on the circus advance with particular attention to the logistics of billposting, dating paper and laying out of litho hods and routes. Dr. Bill Lindsay, Ringling-Barnum Circus veternarian, closed the morning session with a paper on the transportation of animals on the modern circus train. Photo: Dave Price.
In the afternoon the group traveled to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, the Conklin Shows having the midway. After an opportunity to walk around and eat lunch, we met at the tent of Bill Carpenter's Backyard Circus, where Bill and his assistant Johnnie Rice staged a wonderful circus of the imagination with virtually all of the children in the audience. Bill, a longtime professional actor and showman, then addressed our group on the philosophy and staging of his presentation. Next we met at Mike Hackenburger's elephant ride where Mike demonstrated his techniques of working elephants and of training young African lions. Mike is the owner of the nearby Bowmanville Zoo and an avid circus historian.
In the evening we attended the evening performance of the Cirque du Soleil. Especially impressive were the rapid-fire risley act and the amazing juggler. Another outstanding presentation was the Russian swing number that finished with men jumping from one swing to another.
The next day began with Bill Slout's "Prelude to the Great Eastern, Research in Progress." Steve Gossard read his very personal and touching tribute to Mickey King, "Courage and Character: Case Studies in Will and Performance." Bob Sabia read Fred Dahlinger's paper, "New Insights on Sparks Circus History." Fred was unable to make the convention this year. John Polacsek closed the morning session with "The Proposed Frank
Buck Circus - Harry Baker's Dream Season of 1942," a look at the correspondence related to a planned but never realized tent circus of the early WW II era. Photo: Bill Slout.
The afternoon sessions were a mostly Canadian and mostly showmen. Tried and true lecturer and Grand Old Showman Ward Hall debunked once and for all the myth that the old time side show is illegal by covering a series of court battles regarding this issue. Gary Cormier then entertained us with his many circus adventures, not the least of which involved the famous Jim Rose Side Show. Next was the energetic Giovanni Illiani who held our attention with details of the tragic death of elephant trainer Eloise Berchtold on the Gatini show at Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1978, and of his research into the long-suppressed outbreak of a mysterious illness on the Ringling show of some years ago. Giovanni is doubtless the only speaker we have ever had whose image has appeared on not one, but two, postage stamps. Robert Hough, author of a somewhat controversial and highly fictionalized life of Mable Stark, spoke on his research prior to writing his book. Photo: Giovanni Illiani.
The Arnold Maley-Dub Dugan Tent of the CFA, hosted a pre-auction "Pie Car Smashup" that put all in a good mood for our annual auction of circus artifacts. Auctioneer Stencell entertained with a running commentary on the material offered.
The last day was billed as a "Blow off." First was a bus trip to Barrie, Ontario, to see the matinee performance of Canada's own Garden Bros. Circus. Great show and Ian Garden, Jr. his liberty act and the two wonderful dog acts had everyone talking all the way back to the hotel. The day ended with the CHS banquet, at which Bill Slout provided every person attending with a complimentary copy of his new book Chilly Billy, the Evolution of a Circus Millionaire. The death of Past President Joe Bradbury had been announced earlier in the day and Richard Reynolds gave a brief eulogy, which all could relate to on a personal level. Secretary Price then asked those to stand who had belonged to the CHS for twenty-five or more years. We had sixteen present who were in the various ranges from twenty-five up to the "more than sixty years" list.
Sergei Sawchyn, the famous Canadian circus impresario, was a wonderful banquet speaker. Sergei began with a recounting of his early fascination with traveling shows when he was a lad on the prairies of western Canada. He then went on to tell of his adventures in bringing over the Great Circus of China (once featuring Gong Gong the Panda), the Moscow Circus, and of framing his own Circus Tivoli. Many felt that this was one of the best conventions!