Better Living Centre – The Curved, Modernist Building at Exhibition Place

Posted:

2021 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre from the Princess Margaret Fountain at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Notice the multicoloured plexiglass tower on the roof of the Better Living Centre. It was designed to resemble the work of Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian
2021 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre from the Princess Margaret Fountain at Exhibition Place in Toronto

The Better Living Centre is located at 195 Princes’ Blvd (between Ontario Dr and Prince Edward Island Cres) at Exhibition Place in Toronto. It’s directly across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Building and Theatre.

Before the Better Living Centre

When the Manufacturers’ Building burned down in 1961, arrangements quickly got underway for a new structure to display home furnishings, appliances and goods. The CNE commissioned the renowned architectural firm Marani, Morris & Allan to design a building to bring the homeowner into the modern age.

Its Architecture

1962 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place is a Modernist-style building designed by the architectural firm Marani, Morris & Allan. Notice the building's curved white brick walls, glass entrance and flat overhanging roof. This photo was taken when construction was nearing completion
1962 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place is a Modernist-style building designed by the architectural firm Marani, Morris & Allan (Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary, CU110899816)

Opening for the 1962 CNE, the Better Living Centre is a one-storey Modernist-style building which emphasizes form over ornamentation. It’s faced with white glazed brick and has curved corners, irregularly-placed full-height glass entrances, and initially had a central courtyard. The flat roof which appears to be gently resting on the building, is cantilevered 3.7 m or 12 ft past the perimeter.

Keeping with the streamlined form, the Better Living Centre is topped with a rectangular steel grid tower that features randomly placed orange, black, blue, red and white plexiglass panels that resemble the abstract artwork of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

The building’s modern, more-functional-than-pretty architecture was merged with several landscaped terraces on all exterior sides where visitors could rest and enjoy the surroundings; plus, on the north wall is a reflecting pool that once had fountains.

Showing the Latest in Consumer Goods

1960s - A living room "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a glamorous hostess and featured the latest in home furnishings, flooring and wall treatments
1960s – A living room “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a glamorous hostess and featured the latest in home furnishings, flooring and wall treatments (CNE Archives)

The Better Living Centre was made to house permanent exhibits that would only be displayed during The Ex. Manufacturers showed their most up-to-date models of various consumer goods, such as kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners and entertainment equipment.

Throughout the building were complete displays of “decorator rooms” featuring the latest look for kitchens and bathrooms, ultra-chic bedrooms and living rooms, each with a host or hostess. There was also a theatre with cooking shows, celebrity chef demos and workshops.

For many CNE visitors, the Better Living Centre was where they first experienced technologies like a transistor radio, a colour TV, a home computer and electronics.

In 1982, the permanent displays were removed so the space could be rented for other consumer shows. In 1997, home furnishings exhibits were moved out of the Better Living Centre into the newly built National Trade Centre (today known as the Enercare Centre).

Gadgets Galore & the Building Today

The building then became the place to get the latest gizmo you just couldn’t live without. Salespeople on a circuit, crisscrossing the country to places like the CNE, fairs and malls, made their annual stop at The Ex, pitching and demonstrating gadgets or “as seen on TV” products. One seasoned salesperson called Canadians “be-backs” because they had to think about it before buying, while Americans were likelier to purchase on the spot.

The Better Living Centre continues to host various events and shows, and today, during the yearly fair, it’s home to the CNE Farm and CNE Casino.

Did You Know?

2023 – "The Painter's Eye" mural at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre in Exhibition Place. It was created by artist Ronald Satok and is made from Venetian glass and ceramic tiles
2023 – “The Painter’s Eye” mural at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre in Exhibition Place. It was created by artist Ronald Satok and is made from Venetian glass and ceramic tiles
  • Before opening in 1962, the Better Living Centre was also referred to as the Home Furnishings and Appliance Centre.
  • The building has 5 acres or over 200,000 sq ft of floor space.
  • The Better Living Centre is part of a collection of Modernist style buildings at Exhibition grounds that shifted from earlier Beaux-Arts and Classical architectural designs. Other buildings of this style include the Queen Elizabeth Building, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Food Building and the former Exhibition Grandstand, the latter of which was also designed by Marani & Morris.
  • A few characteristics of Modern architecture include clean lines, the use of large smooth shapes, walls of glass and windows, broad roof overhangs, an open layout and a relationship with the outside natural landscape. All of which the Better Living Centre has.
  • Since at least 1975, there had been talk about enclosing the central courtyard, however, it didn’t happen until 2006.
  • The building received heritage status from the city in 1993.
  • In the late 2010s and early 2020s, the Better Living Centre served as a city respite site for those experiencing homelessness and during the pandemic.
  • “The Painter’s Eye” mosaic mural in the north entrance of the Better Living Centre was created by artist Ronald Satok. In 1959, the artist supply company Reeves and Sons (Canada) Ltd commissioned Mr Satok to create the 4.9 x 2.1 m or 16 ft x 7 ft mural. It’s made from Venetian glass and ceramic tiles and originally hung on an exterior wall at Reeves. In 1971, the mural was donated to Exhibition Place and installed on the east-facing wall of the Governments Building, what we know today as Medieval Times. In 2011, the Painter’s Eye was moved to the Better Living Centre. Another of Ronald Satok’s works of art is the “Face-Off” mural initially located at the former CNE’s Hockey Hall of Fame. The painting now decorates the entrance of Gate 5 at BMO Field.
  • Garden of the Greek Gods, a collection of 20 mythical limestone sculptures by artist EB Cox is located directly south of the Better Living Centre.

Better Living Centre Photos

1962 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place is a Modernist-style building designed by the architectural firm Marani, Morris & Allan. Notice the building's curved white brick walls, glass entrance and flat overhanging roof. This photo was taken when construction was nearing completion
1962 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place is a Modernist-style building designed by the architectural firm Marani, Morris & Allan. Notice the building’s curved white brick walls, glass entrance and flat overhanging roof. This photo was taken when construction was nearing completion (Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary, CU110899816)
2022 – The north entrance of the Better Living Centre at 195 Princes' Blvd in Exhibition Place. The photo was taken during the Canadian National Exhibition when a portion of the Better Living Centre is home to the CNE Farm
2022 – The north entrance of the Better Living Centre at 195 Princes’ Blvd in Exhibition Place. The photo was taken during the Canadian National Exhibition when a portion of the Better Living Centre is home to the CNE Farm
1962 - The main entrance of the Better Living Centre during construction. Notice the doors have not yet been installed, and also, when originally constructed, the entrance didn't have the vestibule it has today
1962 – The main entrance of the Better Living Centre during construction. Notice the doors have not yet been installed, and also, when originally constructed, the entrance didn’t have the vestibule it has today (Toronto Public Library TSPA_0111988F)
1962 - Looking northwest towards the beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding the Lily Pond on the south side of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Visitors could rest on the building's terraces and enjoy the view of the adjacent gardens. The pond was drained in the early 2000s to 2010s due to mosquito concerns. Today this area features a small wooded park and the Garden of the Greek Gods
1962 – Looking northwest towards the beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding the Lily Pond on the south side of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Visitors could rest on the building’s terraces and enjoy the view of the adjacent gardens. The pond was drained in the early 2000s to 2010s due to mosquito concerns. Today this area features a small wooded park and the Garden of the Greek Gods (Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary, CU110899830)
1962 - A night photo looking northwest towards the Better Living Centre from Ontario Dr. Notice the building's brilliant illumination on the interior and under the cantilevered roof overhang on the exterior
1962 – A night photo looking northwest towards the Better Living Centre from Ontario Dr. Notice the building’s brilliant illumination on the interior and under the cantilevered roof overhang on the exterior (Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary, CU110899896)
Circa 1962 – Crowds enjoying the exhibits in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The Canadian General Electric Home Centre booth was just one of the permanent exhibitors in the building. In 1982, the permanent displays were removed so the space could be rented for other consumer shows
Circa 1962 – Crowds enjoying the exhibits in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The Canadian General Electric Home Centre booth was just one of the permanent exhibitors in the building. In 1982, the permanent displays were removed so the space could be rented for other consumer shows (CNE Archives)
1962 – In the Better Living Centre's opening year, Chevrolet, the Canadian Admiral Corporation Ltd, and The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario were just a few exhibitors. The building was designed to give maximum wall space for all exhibits and a clearly defined circulation pattern for visitors
1962 – In the Better Living Centre’s opening year, Chevrolet, the Canadian Admiral Corporation Ltd, and The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario were just a few exhibitors. The building was designed to give maximum wall space for all exhibits and a clearly defined circulation pattern for visitors (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1962 – The Amphicar in front of the Princess Margaret Fountain with the Better Living Centre in the background
1962 – The Amphicar in front of the Princess Margaret Fountain with the Better Living Centre in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5784)
2022 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre and the Princess Margaret Fountain from Princes' Blvd and Manitoba Dr at Exhibition Place
2022 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre and the Princess Margaret Fountain from Princes’ Blvd and Manitoba Dr at Exhibition Place
1962 – The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario display during the opening year of the Better Living Centre. The clear glass between the walls and roof allows for abundant natural light into the more than 200,000 sq ft building
1962 – The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario display during the opening year of the Better Living Centre. The clear glass between the walls and roof allows for abundant natural light into the more than 200,000 sq ft building (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1962 – Looking northeast towards the courtyard and Piet Mondrian-inspired tower at the Better Living Centre. The photo was taken before the building's opening for the 1962 CNE. The courtyard area no longer exists and was enclosed in 2006
1962 – Looking northeast towards the courtyard and Piet Mondrian-inspired tower at the Better Living Centre. The photo was taken before the building’s opening for the 1962 CNE. The courtyard area no longer exists and was enclosed in 2006 (Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary, CU110899739)
2023 – The Better Living Centre is topped with a rectangular steel grid tower. It features randomly placed orange, black, blue, red and white plexiglass panels that resemble the abstract artwork of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian
2023 – The Better Living Centre is topped with a rectangular steel grid tower. It features randomly placed orange, black, blue, red and white plexiglass panels that resemble the abstract artwork of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian
1965 – Looking east toward the Better Living Centre at Toronto's Exhibition Place. Notice the clean lines of the building's Modernist style architecture and how the rectangular and square shapes in the multicoloured plexiglass tower on the roof tie in with the red rectangular panels on the doors. On the north lawn was a "NATURAL GAS for Modern Living" sign since, at the time, the building featured permanent exhibits. The former Exhibition Grandstand is in the background on the left
1965 – Looking east toward the Better Living Centre at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. Notice the clean lines of the building’s Modernist style architecture and how the rectangular and square shapes in the multicoloured plexiglass tower on the roof tie in with the red rectangular panels on the doors. On the north lawn was a “NATURAL GAS for Modern Living” sign since, at the time, the building featured permanent exhibits. The former Exhibition Grandstand is in the background on the left (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 333, Item 3)
1962 – CNE visitors milling around the newly opened Better Living Centre. The building housed permanent exhibits for home furnishings, appliances and goods only displayed during the annual fair. Exhibitors included The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, Baldwin Pianos & Organs, Canadian Admiral Corporation Ltd, Fleetwood Corporation, DuMont & Emerson Television, Anaconda American Brass Ltd and The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario
1962 – CNE visitors milling around the newly opened Better Living Centre. The building housed permanent exhibits for home furnishings, appliances and goods only displayed during the annual fair. Exhibitors included The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, Baldwin Pianos & Organs, Canadian Admiral Corporation Ltd, Fleetwood Corporation, DuMont & Emerson Television, Anaconda American Brass Ltd and The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1962 – Chevrolet and Marconi were just two of the many exhibitors at the Better Living Centre in the building's opening year
1962 – Chevrolet and Marconi were just two of the many exhibitors at the Better Living Centre in the building’s opening year (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1960s - A living room "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a glamorous hostess and featured the latest in home furnishings, flooring and wall treatments
1960s – A living room “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a glamorous hostess and featured the latest in home furnishings, flooring and wall treatments (CNE Archives)
1967 - CNE General Manager Bert Powell and other officials taking a tour of the Construction Safety exhibit in the Better Living Centre
1967 – CNE General Manager Bert Powell and other officials taking a tour of the Construction Safety exhibit in the Better Living Centre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4048)
1967 - CNE officials and General Manager Bert Powell taking a tour of the Better Living Centre. They're in front of the Troister furniture exhibit
1967 – CNE officials and General Manager Bert Powell taking a tour of the Better Living Centre. They’re in front of the Troister furniture exhibit (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4047)
1970s - A kitchen "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a host or hostess and featured the latest models of appliances, cabinets, furnishings, flooring, wall treatments, colours and patterns
1970s – A kitchen “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room had a host or hostess and featured the latest models of appliances, cabinets, furnishings, flooring, wall treatments, colours and patterns (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1970s - A bedroom "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest styles, which at the time were shag carpeting, a round bed and very loud wallpaper
1970s – A bedroom “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest styles, which at the time were shag carpeting, a round bed and very loud wallpaper (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1970s - A bathroom "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest look, which at the time was shag carpeting and a boldly patterned wall treatment
1970s – A bathroom “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest look, which at the time was shag carpeting and a boldly patterned wall treatment (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
1970s - A family "decorator room" in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest look and furnishings
1970s – A family “decorator room” in the Better Living Centre during the CNE. The room featured the latest look and furnishings (Exhibition Place Records & Archives)
Between 1978 and 1987 – Looking northeast from the main entrance of the Better Living Centre towards the reflecting pool and fountains. In the background is the Queen Elizabeth Building on the left, and the former Exhibition Grandstand on the right
Between 1978 and 1987 – Looking northeast from the main entrance of the Better Living Centre towards the reflecting pool and fountains. In the background is the Queen Elizabeth Building on the left, and the former Exhibition Grandstand on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 363, Item 3)
2021 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre from the Princess Margaret Fountain at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Notice the multicoloured plexiglass tower on the roof of the Better Living Centre. It was designed to resemble the work of Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian
2021 – Looking southeast towards the Better Living Centre from the Princess Margaret Fountain at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Notice the multicoloured plexiglass tower on the roof of the Better Living Centre. It was designed to resemble the work of Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian
2020 – Looking southeast towards the main entrance of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Notice the grid box tower on top of the Better Living Centre. It features multicoloured plexiglass panels and was designed to resemble the work of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian
2020 – Looking southeast towards the main entrance of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Notice the grid box tower on top of the Better Living Centre. It features multicoloured plexiglass panels and was designed to resemble the work of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian
2020 – One of the west entrances of the Better Living Centre off of Prince Edward Island Cres at Exhibition Place. Notice the use of glass and the low, flat roof overhang, which are common elements in Modernist architecture
2020 – One of the west entrances of the Better Living Centre off of Prince Edward Island Cres at Exhibition Place. Notice the use of glass and the low, flat roof overhang, which are common elements in Modernist architecture
2022 – One of the east entrances of the Better Living Centre off of Ontario Dr at Exhibition Place. The photo was taken during the Canadian National Exhibition when a portion of the Better Living Centre is home to the CNE Casino
2022 – One of the east entrances of the Better Living Centre off of Ontario Dr at Exhibition Place. The photo was taken during the Canadian National Exhibition when a portion of the Better Living Centre is home to the CNE Casino
2022 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place was designed in the Modernist style by architects Marani, Morris & Allan to display home furnishings, appliances and goods. It opened in 1962 and replaced the Manufacturers' Building which was destroyed by fire in 1961. Notice BMO Field stadium on the left
2022 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place was designed in the Modernist style by architects Marani, Morris & Allan to display home furnishings, appliances and goods. It opened in 1962 and replaced the Manufacturers’ Building which was destroyed by fire in 1961. Notice BMO Field stadium on the left
2023 – Inside the main entrance on the north side of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place
2023 – Inside the main entrance on the north side of the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place
2023 – "The Painter's Eye" mural at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre in Exhibition Place. It was created by artist Ronald Satok and is made from Venetian glass and ceramic tiles
2023 – “The Painter’s Eye” mural at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre in Exhibition Place. It was created by artist Ronald Satok and is made from Venetian glass and ceramic tiles
2022 – At the north entrance of the Better Living Centre is a mosaic mural called "The Painter's Eye." In 1959, the artist supply company Reeves and Sons (Canada) Ltd commissioned Ronald Satok to create the artwork, and it originally hung on an exterior wall at Reeves. In 1971, the piece was donated to Exhibition Place and installed on the east-facing wall of the Governments Building, or what we know today as Medieval Times. In 2011, the Venetian glass and ceramic tile mural was moved to the Better Living Centre. It measures 4.9 x 2.1 m or 16 ft x 7 ft
2022 – At the north entrance of the Better Living Centre is a mosaic mural called “The Painter’s Eye.” In 1959, the artist supply company Reeves and Sons (Canada) Ltd commissioned Ronald Satok to create the artwork, and it originally hung on an exterior wall at Reeves. In 1971, the piece was donated to Exhibition Place and installed on the east-facing wall of the Governments Building, or what we know today as Medieval Times. In 2011, the Venetian glass and ceramic tile mural was moved to the Better Living Centre. It measures 4.9 x 2.1 m or 16 ft x 7 ft
2023 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place has over 200,000 sq ft of display space
2023 – The Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place has over 200,000 sq ft of display space
2023 – The 200,000+ sq ft floor space inside the Better Living Centre. The building opened in 1962 and was designed to display home furnishings, appliances and goods
2023 – The 200,000+ sq ft floor space inside the Better Living Centre. The building opened in 1962 and was designed to display home furnishings, appliances and goods
2022 – Looking east towards the Better Living Centre from Prince Edward Island Cres in Toronto's Exhibition Place. The Modernist-style building is clad with glazed white brick and features several terraces
2022 – Looking east towards the Better Living Centre from Prince Edward Island Cres in Toronto’s Exhibition Place. The Modernist-style building is clad with glazed white brick and features several terraces
2022 – "Man Above Matter" sculpture is located at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre at 195 Princes' Blvd. It's made from bronze, copper, lead and tin and was created by artist Arthur Donald Price in 1963. The sculpture was originally in front of the Coliseum's entrance before being relocated to its present-day location in 1997
2022 – “Man Above Matter” sculpture is located at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre at 195 Princes’ Blvd. It’s made from bronze, copper, lead and tin and was created by artist Arthur Donald Price in 1963. The sculpture was originally in front of the Coliseum‘s entrance before being relocated to its present-day location in 1997
2022 – "83" sculpture is located on the west side of the Better Living Centre on Prince Edward Island Cres. It's made from steel and has a concrete base. The sculpture, created by artist Ronald Baird in 1968, was commissioned by the House of Seagram and was originally in front of the former CNE Art Gallery
2022 – “83” sculpture is located on the west side of the Better Living Centre on Prince Edward Island Cres. It’s made from steel and has a concrete base. The sculpture, created by artist Ronald Baird in 1968, was commissioned by the House of Seagram and was originally in front of the former CNE Art Gallery
2022 – The entrance to The Farm in the Better Living Centre during the Canadian National Exhibition
2022 – The entrance to The Farm in the Better Living Centre during the Canadian National Exhibition
2022 - A mare and her foal at the CNE Farm in the Better Living Centre during the Canadian National Exhibition
2022 – A mare and her foal at the CNE Farm in the Better Living Centre during the Canadian National Exhibition
2019 - Shorn and unshorn sheep in their enclosure feeding on hay at the CNE Farm in the Better Living Centre during The Ex
2019 – Shorn and unshorn sheep in their enclosure feeding on hay at the CNE Farm in the Better Living Centre during The Ex
2023 – The Better Living Centre - City of Toronto plaque at Exhibition Place. The building was officially opened by his Worship, Nathan Phillips, Q. C., Mayor, on August 17, 1962.

The plaque is located at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre
2023 – The Better Living Centre – City of Toronto plaque at Exhibition Place. The building was officially opened by his Worship, Nathan Phillips, Q. C., Mayor, on August 17, 1962.

The plaque is located at the north entrance of the Better Living Centre
January 4, 1961 – An aerial view looking northeast over the smouldering ruins of the Manufacturer's Building. The fire began in Hemstead's Restaurant, attached to the building's south side. The Better Living Centre replaced the Manufacturers' Building the following year. Notice the Queen Elizabeth Building and Theatre in the upper part of the photo
January 4, 1961 – An aerial view looking northeast over the smouldering ruins of the Manufacturer’s Building. The fire began in Hemstead’s Restaurant, attached to the building’s south side. The Better Living Centre replaced the Manufacturers’ Building the following year. Notice the Queen Elizabeth Building and Theatre in the upper part of the photo (Toronto Public Library TSPA_0000349F)
SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

24,488FollowersFollow
103FollowersFollow
8,850FollowersFollow