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The Shrine Circus Comes To Ottawa

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The Shrine Circus rolled into Ottawa yesterday!  Celebrating their 250th anniversary this year, the Zerbini Shrine Circus is a family-run circus run by the 10th generation of the Zerbini family.

We were extremely lucky to be invited to attend the opening night of the Shrine Circus under the big top.  Even more exciting – we were invited to a backstage tour before the show! Joining me, my boyfriend and X-Man were my friends and fellow bloggers, Shannon @Shandon00, Julie @CoffeeWithJulie, and Sherrimae @sherrimae23, and their families.

ShrineCircusBloggersJulie, Sandy & Shannon

It has been decades since I attended my first (and only other) Shrine Circus as a child in the 1970’s.  Many things have changed since then, including the circus.

You can’t mention the circus today without being confronted with concern over the welfare of circus animals.  Afterall, the Shrine Circus’ star attractions are the Asian Elephants, the Equestrian Horses, and the Bengal Tigers.  Being the huge animal lover that I am, I have to admit one of the reasons I accepted tickets to the Shrine Circus was the fact that I would get a chance to go backstage and see what goes on “behind the scenes” with the animals.


Of course you could argue that, with us there, everyone would be on their best behaviour. From what I saw, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Things seemed more like “business as usual”.  While I listened to all the interesting information that Ringmaster Richard Curtis was telling us about the animals, I kept a close eye on what was going on in the background.  What did I see?  I saw clean surroundings, clean trucks, clean trailers, and well-maintained grounds around the animals.  Sure, I saw animal feces (in fact, you can see some elephant dung in one of my photos), but where there are animals, there will be poop!

No animals were standing around in their own feces.  The animal’s food supply was plentiful and looked fresh.  I saw large bales of hay, bags of apples and carrots. There was plenty of water available to the animals, and all the animals were being housed under large open canvas awnings to keep them out of the sun.  I also noticed a line of large fans blowing directly on the tigers to keep them cool.  When travelling, the Zerbini’s Shrine Circus has pre-determined places they can stop to give the animals water, food and some relaxation.  They never travel more than two hours without giving the animals a break.

Our behind-the-scenes tour took us first to see the beautiful Equestrian Horses.  The horses were very friendly, allowing me to come right up to them and pet them.  All the horses looked impeccably groomed and healthy.  I thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend a little time amongst these sweet horses!

BackstageAtTheShrineCircusOur next stop was a visit with Shelley & Marie, the Zerbini’s 30+ year old Asian Elephants. These girls were gorgeous…and HUGE!! Let me tell you, you feel so insignificant standing beside one of these beauties.  And stand beside them I did.  In fact, they were so gentle they let me pet them, hold their trunks, hug them, and even feed them a carrot and a strawberry. This was one of those rare animal experiences that I can now check off my bucket list.  I’d have to say, this part of the tour was the highlight of my night! A little trivia for you…did you know that elephants have over 100,000 muscles in their trunks? Wow!

Next we were taken to see the Bengal Tigers.  For obvious reasons, the tigers are kept in cages which we were not allowed to go too close to.  These magnificent felines looked clean, well-kept, and well fed.  They looked relaxed in their cages…until our group of humans lined up in front of them.  To them we likely looked like a tasty feast of human flesh! They may be “tame” but they are still wild animals, so I was more than happy to keep a safe distance away. All the Zerbini Shrine Circus animals are born in captivity, however, they are still born with their natural instincts, if you know what I mean!


After our visit with the animals, Ringmaster Richard Curtis escorted us inside the big top. Inside was a kids dream.  Circus souvenirs, popcorn, hot dogs, french fries, cotton candy, sno cones, and thirst quenching lemonade was all around us. I found the food/souvenir prices to be expensive, however, I realize that it must be very costly to run the circus.  Thinking about all the costs this travelling circus must incur, I had no problem with the prices.  Face painting for the kids topped off a pretty exciting start to the night for all the kids.  While waiting for X-Man to have his face painted, I had the pleasure of talking to the sweet young daughter of one of the acrobats (her mother was the one painting the kids’ faces).  Here’s how our conversation went:

Zerbini Girl:  Excuse me lady but you are sitting in my chair.

Me: Oh I’m sorry! (I say…as I move over one seat).  

Zerbini Girl:  That’s my mommy doing the face painting.

Me:  That’s your mommy?

Zerbini Girl:  Yes, that’s my mommy…she’s wearing a wig! 

Me:  (Laughing!)…She’s wearing a wig? (looked like maybe a hairpiece) I’m not sure mommy would want you telling her secrets.  I’m Sandy, what is your name, sweetie?

Zerbini Girl:  My name is _____ Zerbini.  You need to remember my name.  (I didn’t catch her first name).  

Me: (Laughing some more)…Oh! You are one of the Zerbini’s? I need to remember your name, do I?

Zerbini Girl:  Yes, because I travel with the circus.

And that was the end of my conversation with the little Zerbini girl as we got interrupted by the crowd around us.  What a precocious little cutie she was!

Turns out that little Zerbini girl’s mother is not only a face painter, but she is one of the featured acrobats too.  We saw her death-defying act later in the show.  This is something I found fascinating about this circus.  It seems that many of the performers do so much more than just perform.  They literally run the whole circus.  We even found Ringmaster Richard’s daughter working behind the donut stand. Talk about a family business!


The circus itself was full of laughs and crazy antics, amazing animal tricks, mesmerizing feats of strength and endurance, and edge-of-your-seat stunts.  I was holding my breath on more than one occasion watching the performers as they showcased their talents far above our heads.  What they were able to do was nothing less than amazing.

For those of you who are parents, imagine your seven-year-old being twirled around in the air by a grown man’s feet? How about riding high atop a unicycle, or being flung through the air at high speed?  These are the types of acts we witnessed as performed by the young Zerbini kids.  Talk about impressive! The kids really stole the show.


We enjoyed all the animal acts, and they all did a fantastic job.  My favourite parts? Watching one of the Bengal Tigers take a poop mid-performance (when you gotta go, you gotta go!), watching the Asian Elephants, Shelley & Marie, come dancing out into the ring to “Gangham Style”, and watching four “unwitting volunteers” from the audience get up on stage and perform their best dance moves alongside Piolita the Clown.

I was actually surprised to find out that a great deal of the Zerbini Shrine Circus is performed by humans.  The animals were featured far less during the performance than I had expected.  I think that is a good thing.

Ringmaster Richard Curtis is well-suited to his job. He’s a true performer!!  Richard is the man that kept the show running smoothly and on time, provided us with a few laughs…and he even sang a song.  He has got a real announcer’s voice.  In fact, his voice reminds us of the announcer for the WWE, Michael Buffer.


To me, the cutest part of the whole evening was watching X-Man and Miss T. (Shannon’s daughter) walk hand in hand during our backstage tour.  They met each other for the first time last night…maybe there’s a Canadian Blog House/Shannon’s View From Here wedding in our distant future?

For those of you wanting to attend here in Ottawa, you have two more chances to catch the Shrine Circus tomorrow (Sunday August 10th). Canadian Blog House readers you can scoop some 2 for 1 passes by using the code FUN.  Quebec residents, the circus is coming your way next! Be sure to take advantage of this code if you plan to go.  You can find the Shrine Circus schedule here.

For all you contesters out there, I hope you’ve entered the Shrine Circus contest. You can win a trip to Two Tails Elephant Sanctuary in Florida! Enter here. You can enter until September 22, 2013.

Already have a ticket for the Shrine Circus but can’t go?  Did you know you can donate your ticket to Kids Up Front Canada (a charity supported by the Shrine Circus)?  Instead of a seat sitting empty on performance night…why not let a child sit in your seat and enjoy the show? I love the concept behind this charity!


Disclosure:  Canadian Blog House received complimentary passes to attend the Shrine Circus, however, was under no obligation to write this review. All opinions are my own.

  1. August 10, 2013

    Joy M.

    Thanks for sharing your adventures at the circus! Looks like fun. I would worry about the animals and how well they were cared for, but it sounds like they looked happy?

    • August 10, 2013


      Thanks for reading, Joy!! Yes, I adore all animals, so they were my number one concern when I visited. I was greatly relieved to see what I saw while I was there. I did not see any signs of stress, tension, discomfort, injuries or anything of that nature. All the animals looked so clean, healthy and well taken care of. I saw people around that really seemed to love the animals. We were all laughing at one point while viewing the elephants as it looked like one of them was smiling at us with her mouth wide open.

  2. August 10, 2013


    Great photos! 🙂 Circus love. Too cute. Great seeing you all again!

    • August 10, 2013


      Thanks Shannon! As you can tell…I got my camera working again 🙂 Yep, too cute, eh? Great seeing you all again too!

  3. August 11, 2013


    I agree Sandy, when I snuck back stage, I was very pleased by what I saw and heard. They do love their animals.

    • August 11, 2013


      Yes, that is the overall feeling I got while walking around – people tending to the animals and talking to them like they really care for them. The best thing I came away with was seeing the condition of the animals up close. They all looked so beautiful and healthy. It was very apparent that they are well taken care of. Thanks for reading, Shash!

  4. August 11, 2013

    Coffee with Julie

    This is such an excellent re-cap Sandy! I agree whole-heartedly with everything you’ve written (including your fave part of the show with the tiger! :)). It truly is a family business and it really seems like everyone works hard and genuinely loves and cherishes the circus life they’ve created! As for the beautiful little Zerbini girl … wow, can her momma twirl! She was AMAZING!

    • August 11, 2013


      Thanks so much, Julie! Yes, that tiger had great timing, lol. Mama Zerbini sure can twirl! All the acrobatic performances were outstanding. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

      • August 11, 2013

        Coffee with Julie

        I just love watching acrobatics. But at the same time, I can barely breathe the whole time they’re performing (as you might have noticed by sitting next to me!). So scary!

        • August 11, 2013


          LOL…I didn’t notice….probably because I was sitting on the edge of my seat…barely breathing. I know exactly what you mean 🙂

  5. August 12, 2013

    Kat at Mommy Kat and Kids

    Aww, it sounds like it was an amazing time! I have a friend that trains and shows the elephants for a different circus and I know one of the things that surprised me was how strict the controls were for ensuring the animals are well cared for. It was great to see!

    • August 12, 2013


      Oh that is so good to hear, Kat! I’m always worried about the animals and how they are treated in circuses (etc). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. August 12, 2013

    Kerrie @ Family Food and Travel

    Great photos! Love that you got to enjoy the night with other bloggers and their families – would love to take my boys to the circus!

    • August 12, 2013


      Thanks Kerrie! I was so happy we were allowed to take pics that night 🙂 Yes, it made the circus extra fun by being able to hang with some blogger friends and their families! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. August 12, 2013


    WOW! What fun! I remember going to the Shriner’s Circus when I was a kid! Fun memories! Love your photos! You ladies look awesome! I miss you, my friend! xo

    • August 12, 2013


      Awww…I miss you too, Christine!! Looking so forward to seeing you in October 🙂 Glad you had a chance to visit the circus as a child. Thanks! We ladies had a great evening! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  8. August 12, 2013


    Wasn’t it a brilliant circus? We loved it when it came to Markham! I love your interaction with a Zerbini girl! We had the two unicycle boys watch the circus beside us after they were done. It was really cool to see them support their friends on stage! LOVE IT!

    • August 12, 2013


      Yay! You and your family got to go too, Jenn…that’s great! Oh I loved those boys…they were so adorable and such great performers! That’s neat that they sat next to you for part of the show 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. August 12, 2013

    Jenna Em

    Sandi, it looks like you had a blast at the Shrine Circus! My family loved it when it came to town recently. That talented family on the Russian Swing really was a sight to behold!

    • August 12, 2013


      So glad you got to enjoy the circus also, Jenna! Oooh…I just love that Russian Swing! Amazing what they can do with that 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. August 12, 2013

    Lyne Proulx

    Great photos and recap Sandy! Too bad I couldn’t attend:(

    • August 13, 2013


      Thanks Lyne!! Yes…we keep missing you at these events 🙁 Hopefully next time!! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  11. August 13, 2013


    I really enjoyed reading your write up about the circus. The pictures are great too. Especially Circus Love:)

    • August 13, 2013


      Thanks cjm 🙂 That’s my favourite picture too. It was pretty cute to watch the two of them hand-in-hand 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • August 22, 2013


      Thanks so much for saying so, Nancy! Really appreciate it 🙂 Yes, the “circus love” was pretty cute!! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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