By Sean Delaney
As kids, we have all felt the excitement for the upcoming opening of the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE).
And at the same time, we all try to repress the reality that with the last day of the CNE, comes the end of another summer and the dreaded “Back to School” days begin.
Let’s put that out of our minds for now. The Crown Jewel of the Toronto summertime, the CNE has delighted droves of Torontonians for generations. Nearly 150 years since it first opened its doors to the masses in 1879 (then called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition), the CNE continues to be a celebration of Canadian culture and innovation.
It is Canada’s largest community event and one of the top five agricultural fairs in North America.
Founded in 1879 as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, the CNE has enjoyed a distinguished history as a showcase of the nation. People came to experience the latest innovations in technology and commercial products, to enjoy the popular entertainers of the time, and to engage in a collective community celebration.
Although the CNE has changed significantly over the years, it continues to be one of Ontario’s great annual traditions and an event that offers substantial entertainment value for money.
Taking place over the 18 days leading up to and including Labour Day, it is affectionately embraced as an end-of-summer ritual by more than 1.5 million visitors annually – visitors who reflect the rich diversity of Toronto and the region.
The history of the Ex is certainly an interesting one. In the mid 19th century, the City of Toronto and the Canadian government organized a number of agricultural festivals, including the Provincial Agricultural Fair, to showcase and share information pertaining to farming practices. These fairs all achieved relative success, leading to an effort by local businesses, the Toronto city council and the Exhibition committee to establish a permanent festival on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto. When Ottawa was chosen as the site for the 1879 Provincial fair, Toronto decided to hold its own celebration. The Toronto Industrial Exhibition, the predecessor to the Ex we know today, was visited by more than 100,000 Torontonians during its three week run in 1879.
The yearly event would soon grow a reputation as a showcase for new technology. In 1883, visitors to the Exhibition would be introduced to the electric railroad for the first time. Over the years, Edison’s phonograph, radio, television, plastic and virtual reality, would all make their Canadian public debuts at the CNE.
In 1912, as the festival grew, the Toronto Industrial Exhibition would take the current name of the Canadian National Exhibition to reflect its role as a truly national event. The CNE would never abandon its original vision as an agricultural fair however, a building is still dedicated to showcasing farming technology today
When Canada entered the Great War in 1914, the Exhibition grounds were quickly transformed to serve as a military base for the Canadian war effort. Despite military training undertaken at the site, the CNE would remain open. Military demonstrations could be witnessed alongside the traditional fair activities during the war period.
In 1927, the monumental entrance to the CNE, the Prince’s gate (often mistakenly called the Princess Gates), was opened to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Many, including the Royal Family, were in attendance.
During WWII, the CNE would cease operations for the first time as Canadians prepared for a larger military engagement.
Today, the CNE remains an important summertime event for Toronto.1.6 million people visit annually, several of which are tourists. It employs over 3,000 people including vendors, security services and exhibitors and contributes to about 58.6 million dollars to our economy. So if you live in Emery, you owe it to yourself to check out the CNE. One of Toronto’s most exciting festivals.