British Columbia

Why travelling carnivals are disappearing from small-town Canada

A popular travelling carnival has cut northern B.C. from its route for the first time in decades, citing the cost of getting there — another sign of how times are changing for such businesses.

West Coast Amusements has cut northern B.C. from its tour, citing rising costs

West Coast Amusements is one of the longest running family-owned carnivals in B.C. (West Coast Amusements/Facebook)

A popular travelling carnival has cut northern B.C. from its route for the first time in decades, citing the cost of getting there — another sign of how times are changing for such businesses.

Stephany Buttazoni, one of the owners of West Coast Amusements, said the carnival won't be making it's usual stops in Prince Rupert, Terrace or Kitimat this year, as it's simply too far north.

"The biggest concern is [hiring] drivers," Buttazoni said.

"And the cost of fuel to transport and move that equipment that far north."

Instead, the carnival has extended its stay in the Lower Mainland.

"Unfortunately, we might not be able to head up north at all in the future but hopefully that's not the case," Buttazoni told CBC's Daybreak North.

More rides, fewer shows

The family-operated West Coast Amusements, which has been running for four generations, isn't the only one facing a shifting landscape.

Erin Fawcett, with the Carnival Museum in Ontario, says a lot has changed since the era of carnivals, which she described as the 1920s to 1940s.

"The biggest difference between the old days of the carnivals and now is this: it's gotten way more expensive," she said.

Carnivals are now more focused on the rides than ever before. (West Coast Amusements/Facebook)

In particular, tor travelling carnivals that bounce between towns, the cost of frequently relocating can be crippling.

But that's not the only change.

"Carnivals back in the 20th century, they were more about the shows," Fawcett said.

"The freak shows, or the animal sideshows, or pretty much anything out there that people haven't seen before that they find interesting."

A societal shift away from things like animal performances, combined with the arrival of television and then the internet, killed off those shows.

Now, it's all about the rides — and that also comes with a higher cost.

But that doesn't take away from the popularity of carnivals, or the sentimentality around them.

"There's nothing that replaces a carnival ride," Fawcett said. "… but I am concerned that it's going to be increasingly hard over time."

After many years, West Coast Amusements has cancelled its visit to northwestern B.C., saying the costs of doing so are unsustainable. Erin Fawcett of the Carnival Museum in Brantford, Ont. explains how the carnival world is changing, again. 6:53

With files from Daybreak North

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