carny knowledge

Published in the West Kootenay Weekender, cover story May 6, 2010

“There’s a horrible stereotype about carnies. I have some idea where it comes from, but that was decades ago. This is a family production,” says Kendra Papineau, human resources manager for one of West Coast Amusements’ four units currently travelling BC. Papineau, 21, is rocking her five-month-old son, Tristan, in the office trailer. Screams from midway riders penetrate the walls. Tristan looks up, squints and buries his face in his mom’s shirt.

For over a decade, Papineau has roamed western Canada each summer. With the winters off, she travels on her own to other countries. “It’s a wonderful life if you like traveling,” she reasons, “and everyone here is considered family, especially under someone like Bingo.”

Irving ‘Bingo’ Hauser founded WCA in 1962 as an ex-lion tamer. At 84 years old, he continues to work with his son and daughter, their spouses and his grandkids. At barely five feet tall, Bingo’s size belies his strength. With bright blue eyes, charming smile and a thick chest, Bingo’s carnival love is obvious. As he recounts his history however, Bingo wrings his hands slightly, revealing uncertainty in where his carnival is going.

Bingo started with Conklin in Brandon MB in the early 40s, touring the States and Canada. He came to Nelson in the mid-40s with Alberta Slim’s Cowboy Show. “We played downtown on the street,” he remembers, pointing toward Baker. By 1948, Bingo wanted his own circus, so he purchased a lion cub, Simba, from a man in California.

From five cats sixty years ago to 125 rides today, Bingo refers to his unit as ‘the old folks show.’ “It’s a tame one we have here,” he chuckles. “You know the circus used to be all about the side show, right?” he asks, elbowing me in the ribs.

“Now, it’s pure family fun. I’ve got to support my family, and this team is my family. But I have to make some important decisions soon.” Bingo cites fuel costs as his major headache, along with steel costs, insurance and most recently, taxes that he feels “will hurt everyone.”

“It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve got to pay my people more so they can eat a good breakfast. People here are making less money so they take less rides. We all have to feed each other.”

Bingo thinks he might soon have to take the wheels off his units and limit how far he takes them. “Carnivals have changed,” he concludes, and shakes my hand with a firm grip.

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