Sunday May 2. 2021
The Canadian National Exhibition (C.N.E.) started as an agricultural fair in 1846. It rotated between cities in Upper Canada and was hosted by Toronto in 1846, 1852, 1858 and again in 1878. The city decided it needed its own showcase and so the Industrial Exhibition was opened for the first time in 1879. There’s still one building from that original exhibition and several other interesting structures and monuments and so I went for a walk around the 192 acre site. Many buildings have come and gone on the grounds of the C.N.E. but its development can be traced roughly from the west end toward the east.
The first European uses of this piece of property date back to 1750 when the French built Fort Toronto, which was called Fort Rouille after 1752. The fort only lasted until July 1759 when the British were defeating the French. As their hold in North America was lost they evacuated the fort and then burned it. An obelisk monument was erected in 1887 to mark the site of the old fort. Excavations in 1979, 1980 and 1982 revealed many details of the fort and now the outline is marked by a cement walkway that can be seen in the picture below.
Following the Battle of York and the Rebellion of 1837 it was decided to build a new fort at Toronto. New Fort York was built in 1840-1841 and was later renamed Stanley Barracks. It was used by the British until 1870 when it was turned over to the Canadian Military. Troops were trained here for several wars in which Canada participated concluding with the Second World War after which the fort was no longer used by the military.
The archive picture below shows the fort with the C.N.E. buildings in the background. This picture was taken in 1931 and by the 1950’s all the buildings except the Officers Barracks, in the foreground, were demolished to create parking lots for the Exhibition.
The first annual Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 and was graced by the arrival of Scadding Cabin. The cabin had been built in 1794 on the east side of The Don River and was later disassembled and moved to the grounds of the fair. This early act of preservation allowed the cabin to survive and today it is the oldest building in the city.
Fifteen permanent buildings were erected on the western end of the site between 1903 and 1912 while the eastern end was still used primarily for military purposes. Over the years all but five of these have been lost to fires or the construction of the Gardiner Expressway. The oldest of these is the Press Building which was completed in the Beaux-Arts style in 1904. It was originally used as the Administration Offices for the Exhibition until it was moved into the new Queen Elizabeth Building in 1957. After that the building played host to the media and the name was changed to The Press Building.
The Music Building was originally constructed as the Railways Building in 1907 and employed the Beaux-Arts Style that G. W. Gouinlock used on all twelve buildings except the fire hall. The building is made up of three 40 foot tall domes each 54 feet in diameter. The Horticultural Building was also completed in 1907 but is surrounded by a fence and temporary structures making it difficult to get a worthwhile picture.
In 1911 The Government Building was added, also constructed in the Beaux-Arts Style. It was originally used for government displays at the exhibition and later became the Arts, Crafts and Hobbies Building. It later served as barracks for Canadian soldiers during World War One. Since 1993 it has hosted Medieval Times where you can enjoy dinner and a nice jousting match.
The Fire Hall and Police Station were built in 1912 and remain in service as active detachments to this day. This was the last of the 15 permanent buildings and marked the year that the name was changed to the Canadian National Exhibition. These five remaining buildings were added to the heritage list in 1988 collectively as an historic site.
The Government of Ontario building was added in 1926 to provide permanent exhibition space for the province. This was transferred to Ontario Place in the 1970s and the building was largely vacant for a number of years except during the C.N.E. when it hosted displays. Since 2001 it has been home to Liberty Entertainment which has several banquet and ballrooms in the building.
In the 1920’s the eastern end of the park was under redevelopment and a new set of gates was planned. Work began in April 1927 and was completed in August. The plan called for a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Confederation and the gates were to be called the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gates. However, on August 30, 1927 they were officially opened by two princes. When Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince George, Duke of Kent presided over the opening it was suitably renamed Princes’ Gates. It is also featured in the cover photo where the inscription Canadian National Exhibition 1879 – 1927 can be read.
The Shriners Peace Fountain started in 1930 as a memorial to a century of peace between Canada and The United States of America. The surrounding gardens and fountain were developed in 1958 by the Toronto Parks Department.
By the time the Horse Palace was built in 1931 the architectural style had shifted to Art Deco with its crisp clean lines. Originally the Toronto Police kept a mounted unit here during the C.N.E. and again during the Agricultural Winter Fair. Since 1968 there has been a permanent unit stationed here and in 2000 all of the Toronto Police Mounted Units were housed in this building.
A wooden entrance was built in 1895 to greet visitors who entered the park off of Dufferin Street, the main entrance at the time. In 1910 it was demolished and a set of Beaux-Arts towers with a festive arch was constructed at the western entrance to the park to match the buildings. The archive picture below shows the gates during the First World War.
Unfortunately, it and several buildings were in the way of the Gardiner Expressway and so it was demolished in the 1950s. The parabolic arch that replaced it in 1956 will remind people of the more famous St. Louis Arch, however that one wasn’t built until 1963.
Between 1955 and 1985 the Shell Tower, later Bulova Tower, stood tall above the C.N.E. at 120 feet in height. It was closed in 1983 because of continued issues with the elevator and various other structural concerns. Two years later it was demolished to make way for the first Toronto Indy Course. Today we have a smaller clock tower which stands behind the cherry trees which are just starting to blossom.
I enjoyed a two hour exploration of the grounds of the C.N.E. but when the Ex is actually on, it takes much more than that to see everything it has to offer.
Related Blogs: Battle of York, Rebellion of 1837, Scadding Cabin, Ontario Place
Google Maps Link: C.N.E.
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There is hardly anything else I love to see more than the CNE grounds when the EX is not on. It is so peaceful and gorgeous. What does upset me is the eyesore stadium that they built to replace Exhibition stadium. Also, my late dad used to have Coin Shows in the old Arts and Crafts building. This building now houses the Medieval Times. Thank you for yet another fabulous article.
Very informative, I enjoyed the read. If this can be shared on Twitter, why can this not be shared on Facebook, there are thousands of people that would enjoy this !!!
We also post on Facebook on our “Hiking the GTA” page. http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta If you want to share it from there you can do so.
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