Table of contents

List of illustrations

Introduction:  Pookie’s Story

Chapter 1:  Monsters and Freaks:  Exhibitionary Culture and the Order of Things

Chapter 2:  The Carnival State:  Protest, Moral Regulation, and Profits

Chapter 3:  The Carnival Business in Canada:  Paternalism, Belonging, and Freak Show Labour         

Chapter 4:  The Twentieth Century Freak Show:  Medical Discourse, Normality, and Race

Chapter 5:  Not Just Child’s Play:  Child Freak Show Consumers and Workers

Chapter 6:  The Spectacularization of Small and Cute:  Midget Shows and the Dionne Quintuplets

Epilogue:  ‘I guess it really is all over’:  The End Which is Not One




In 1973, a five year old girl known as Pookie was exhibited as “The Monkey Girl” at the Canadian National Exhibition. Pookie was the last of a number of children exhibited as ‘freaks’ in twentieth-century Canada.


Jane Nicholas takes us on a search for answers about how and why the freak show persisted into the 1970s. In Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900–1970s, Nicholas offers a sophisticated analysis of the place of the freak show in twentieth-century culture. Freak shows survived and thrived because of their flexible business model, government support, and by mobilizing cultural and medical ideas of the body and normalcy. This book is the first full length study of the freak show in Canada and is a significant contribution to our understanding of the history of Canadian popular culture, attitudes toward children, and the social construction of able-bodiness. Based on an impressive research foundation, the book will be of particular interest to anyone interested in the history of disability, the history of childhood, and the history of consumer culture.


"This work is a demonstration of how original historical research, carefully and imaginatively deployed, can be usefully combined with contemporary culture theory of exhibitionary logics, embodiment, and difference. It is a story well told by a skillful historian."

- Kenneth Little, York University