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Ex appeal

By Will Sloan

Virginia Ludy

Virginia Ludy began working at the CNE through an internship as a Ryerson student.

In 1983, a Ryerson student named Virginia Ludy took an internship as part of the Applied Geography program at the Canadian National Exhibition. Thirty-two years later, Virginia Ludy is taking over as the CNE’s first female general manager. As the 2015 edition of the Toronto summer staple approaches, she reflected on how much a traditional event can change over three decades.

“When I joined the organization, the CNE was in some tough times,” said Ludy. “There was a lot of chatter in the marketplace about whether or not the CNE should even continue. It didn’t have a great reputation – it was kinda dirty and run down, and people weren’t too excited.

“But the event has changed,” she added, “and the event I started at 30 years ago is very different than the Ex we have today. Today we have an event that offers many programs to our customers. We pride ourselves in the look and feel of the event, and I think that it’s reflective of a lot of the effort the staff puts in to really make it what it is today.”

As an intern in 1983, Ludy was at the bottom of the totem pole, working as a research analyst in the marketing department. “We used to write surveys and collect and manipulate data. I used to put the data on floppy disks and bring it over to Ryerson and do it on their system, because we didn’t have enough capacity on the computers here.”

Over time, she came to work in numerous roles at the Ex, from marketing to concession to assistant general manager. She has been with it through some of its biggest structural changes, including its transition from a city-owned institution to an independent non-profit in 2013. And she knows first-hand how a traditional agrarian fair has had to adapt to the 21st century.

“It used to be you went after families or young adults or seniors. Well, now there are groups within groups within groups,” said Ludy.

“With the age of the Internet and social media, the way we communicate with our customers has changed so tremendously. When I started in marketing, you bought radio, print and television. Now, you can take your message and make it very specific to whatever particular group you’re after.”

This year’s attractions include the cutting-edge of acrobatics with RUSH: Parkour Demonstrations and CiruOmedie; musical acts like Rick Springfield, Chubby Checker, and Tokyo Police Club; dining events like Food Truck Frenzy; and old reliables like the Superdogs, the midway, and shopping.

What has kept Ludy at the Ex for more than three decades? “I think it’s the people. I love just going outside and seeing the expressions on their faces. Young folks, older folks, middle-aged folks – they come here to forget about life for a little bit.

“Our tagline is, ‘Smiles on faces, our tradition.’”

For more information about the 2015 Canadian National Exhibition, go to theex.com.