By Robyn Roste/Special to Aldergrove Star
For a child, there is nothing quite as exciting as seeing a travelling carnival set up in town. Watching the ferris wheel turn, racing around on bumper cars, and sampling the iconic treats are core memory for many, if not most, Canadians.
And for more than 20 years, Shooting Star Amusements has brought the joy of carnivals to cities and towns throughout British Columbia. The show brings together amusement rides, food vendors, skill-testing games, and more.
In January 2020, Justin Wagner purchased Shooting Star Amusements with plans to grow the company and increase events.
Two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic caused operations to cease until autumn 2021.
“Five days before the first event, everything shut down,” said Wagner, who served as general manager with the company from 2017 until taking over ownership.
“Thankfully things changed. The Abbotsford Agrifair was our first event in 2021 and 2022 was our first full season back,” he explained.
When running at capacity, the fleet can have up to 22 trucks transporting equipment, rides, and up to 40 staff members to their destination.
“Depending on the size of the event, we can have anywhere between 16 to 18 rides, five or six game concessions, and three to four food concessions,” Wagner said.
The expected attendance and location also impacts how many rides will be set up, especially if the ground is not level, as many of the attractions are mobile units mounted on trailers and need to be on flat ground.
While the carnival typically operates on weekends, it takes the entire week to travel to the location, set up the rides and attractions, and get everything ready to open.
After the event closes on Sunday, the staff tear down, pack up, and head off to the next town.
Often travelling carnivals are painted in an unfair light, Wagner said, because people assume they take money out of the local economy as they pass through.
“This is a misconception,” he insisted.
“I’m renting anywhere from 12 to 14 hotel rooms for employees, buying tires, parts, supplies for concessions, fuel for trucks. We do spend quite a bit of money and inject money into the economy, as well as draw from outside the local community to spend money there,” Wagner elaborated.
The company operates at festivals and events across the province, and they’re committed well in advance.
“I like to have most bookings by November of the previous year, and we have multi-year contracts with many events. There are typically only two or three weekends that change from year to year,” he noted.
On April 8, Wagner packed his motorhome and hit the road for another full season.
He won’t return home to Mission until Sept. 30 when their final carnival wraps up and he can spend the winter refurbishing equipment and having his vehicles serviced.
This is also the time many rides and games go into one of the storage locations the company has in Aldergrove, Langley, and Abbotsford.
However, not all the rides are static in the winter. Some rides spend the off-season featured in movies and television shows filmed in the Fraser Valley.
For instance in 2022, Shooting Star Amusements worked with shows aired on Disney, Netflix, and CBS that required carnival scenes.
“My staff were excited to work on the shows, but it’s a lot of standing around and waiting,” he admitted.
The carnival won’t stop in Aldergrove this year, but there will still be opportunities to experience the midway rides and games at Dasmesh Gurdwara Vaisakhi in Surrey from April 25 to 30 and the Ridge Meadows Home Show between May 5 and 7.
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