The Canadian National Exhibition first began as the Grand Dominion & Industrial Exhibition on September 5, 1879. Its purpose in the early years was to promote the growth of agriculture, industry and the arts. By the 1880’s, “Canada’s Greatest Fair” was shifting away from agriculture and moving towards industry, so the name was changed to the Industrial Exhibition Toronto.
At the beginning of the 1900’s, improvements were underway at Exhibition grounds and a huge rebuilding program had begun. A few of the structures that were a part of that project included the Government Building, the Horticultural Building and the Princes’ Gates. In 1912, the fair’s name was updated to the Canadian National Exhibition. The “Show Window of the Nation” fairgrounds covered 350 acres at the time and, it was considered one of the world’s finest permanent exhibition facilities, stadium and amusement parks.
The CNE’s History of Firsts
Nicknamed The Ex, its where people have been coming to see the newest consumer products and innovations. Some technologies first introduced to CNE visitors include:
1883 – commercial electric railway transportation 1888 – Edison’s phonograph 1890 – wireless telephone 1922 – radio 1939 – television 1940’s & 1950’s – plastics and synthetics 1992 – virtual reality
Did You Know?
100,000 people attended the first fair and admission was 25¢.
In 1879, the exhibition was host to the Caledonian Games and Bicycle Races.
The Crystal Palace, a beautiful glass and iron building burned down in 1906. It was located where the Toronto Event Centre (formerly the Horticultural Building) stands today.
During World War I, Exhibition grounds were used for military training and housing. It was called Exhibition Camp. The fair still went ahead.
During World War II, the grounds were again used by the military however for the years from 1942 to 1946, The CNE was cancelled.
In 1954, Toronto’s own Marilyn Bell swam across Lake Ontario at 16 years old. The CNE gave Marilyn a $10,000 prize.
The CNE was not open on Sundays until 1968.
5,000 youths are employed each year.
There are over 110 Midway games plus more than 60 Midway rides.
More than 1,000 performers entertain guests while there’s 700 vendors and exhibitors.
In terms of the economic impact, The CNE generates over $128 million for Ontario each year.
Due to the pandemic, the historic fair was cancelled in 2020 and now also in 2021. It’s at risk of closing its gates forever. Click to learn more about the Save the CNE initiative.