The ‘Sportsmen’s Show’: It’s a personal rite of spring

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Seconds after walking into the main entrance at the Canadian National Sportsmen's Show in Toronto., you're immersed in all things outdoors.

Seconds after walking into the main entrance at the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Show in Toronto, you’re immersed in all things outdoors.

Those of us fortunate enough to have traditions which are so ingrained they’ve actually become a part of who we are, will recognize a bit of themselves in this column.

It’s March again. Time for the “Sportsmen’s Show” in Toronto. It’s got a longer, more formal title, but those two words are really all I need to say and everyone in our family just knows.

These days it’s a 5 1/2-hour trip each way to attend the show — Ottawa’s a pretty good hike from Toronto. But when you love the outdoors, love meeting others with passion for their pastimes and products, and when it’s so rich with memories … well, you know.

I don’t honestly know how long the Sportsmen’s Show has been a part of my life. Seems like forever. It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t make plans to attend. When Scouting, hiking, fishing and camping are a big part of your childhood, and you live in Toronto, well, you just go.

In the early years it was my father taking me to the show. We’d trek around the old Coliseum building at Exhibition Place, watch the retriever trials, check out every piece of fishing equipment in the place, and dream about buying a top-of-the-line fishing boat, or an RV and heading out onto the open roads…

That would’ve been during the mid 1970s. And while the dynamics changed over the years, the show has been a constant. There haven’t been many years I haven’t walked those seemingly endless aisles of fishing, hunting, boating, camping, demonstrations, arena shows and assorted bric-a-brac.

Virtually every year, attending the show doubled as a pretty awesome reason to get together with my dad. It has always taken place during the March Break, right around the time of his birthday. So after I moved away from home and started working it was my turn to make the arrangements; drive to Toronto from wherever I was living, pay his admission (or beg for a second media pass), buy lunch and usually, when the day was done, also a dinner.

Family affair at the Sportsmen’s Show

For more than a decade it was also a place to drop in on my uncle — himself a former journalist — who for many years helped out with public / media relations at the Sportsmen’s Show. We attended many an opening night event together.

Heck, at one of those I even shook hands and talked to Radar O’Reilly, aka Gary Burghoff. Don’t know him? Google his name and up will come one of TV’s greatest tragi-comedy series of all time. Turns out he’s an avid sportsman. Who knew?

The years have come and gone, the show has changed locations (multiple times), and adapted with the times. Uncle Don is no longer involved and my dad, sadly, passed away a few years ago. As he aged, he’d walk a bit slower and we’d take a few more breaks, but he always looked forward to that day at the Sportsmen’s Show. It was something really special.

He still walks the aisles with me, though, in my memories. (I really do believe if he’d had his heart attack right there in the middle of an aisle of fishing gear, tents, boats and a hawker selling sausages made of 10 different kinds of game, he’d have met his maker with a big ole smile on his lips)

So on Thursday morning I’ll once again walk through the doors into the cavernous International Centre to spend a full day walking, chatting, exploring, learning, buying (don’t tell my wife) and savouring the sights and sounds of one of North America’s pre-eminent outdoors shows.

It just wouldn’t be (almost) spring without it…

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