The Canadian National Exhibition began in 1879. Its purpose was to promote the growth of agriculture, industry and the arts. In the early 1900’s, while the fair was still keeping farmers up to date with the improvements in agricultural sciences, it began highlighting the changes in Canadian society and shifted its focus to industry.
For over 140 years, people have been coming to The Ex to see the latest in consumer products, innovations and even inventions.
Historic Firsts at the Canadian National Exhibition
Some of the major technological breakthroughs first presented at the Exhibition include:
- In 1883, the worlds first commercial electric railway.
- In 1888, Thomas Edison’s phonograph was introduced.
- In 1899, the first wireless telephone was on exhibit. A phonograph was in one of the Exhibition buildings while the telephone receiver was in another.
- In 1922, a crowd of thousands gathered outside the Radio Building at the CNE to hear a radio transmission.
- In the late 1930’s, patrons of The Ex got their first look at a television by RCA Victor.
- Through the 1940’s and 50’s, plastics and synthetics were first introduced.
- In 1992, visitors to the CNE were able to put on a headset and step into virtual-reality gaming.
Exhibits at The Ex
Throughout the early years, while the latest in farm machinery was on display for those in agriculture, major technological advancements like the telephone (1888) were also being demonstrated.
As Canada’s Greatest Fair shifted from agriculture to industry, more consumer products were unveiled. Some of the items on display to CNE patrons included:
- From the turn of the 20th century, Christie’s Biscuits were promoted at the Exhibition by print display in ads or at a booth.
- In 1917, Consumers Gas Company was promoting “Modern Gas Illumination” which included table lamps as well as wall and ceiling fixtures. They were advertised as “artistic and eye resting”. That same year, the company also had “Safety Gas Irons” on display. They were touted as being “wasteless and economical”.
- Since 1929, the newest vehicles could be seen in the Automotive Building. Early on, automobile enthusiasts could see the cars/companies like Auburn, Hupmobile by Hupp Motor Car Company of Detroit and Pontiac. In the decades to follow, experimental/concept cars were being shown by the “Big Three” automakers. Today the Automotive Building is known as the Beanfield Centre.
- In 1937, Consumers Gas Co. salesmen were showing their latest radiant gas fireplaces, gas refrigeration and more.
- In 1953, years after CNE visitors had their first look at TV, the device was becoming mainstream.
- In the 1950’s, before Lorne Greene became Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, he was a huge radio personality. The Ottawa-born Mr Greene, broadcast for CKEY while promoting Alka-Seltzer at the CNE.
- Throughout the years, the TTC showcased their latest streetcars, subways, buses and routes including the upcoming Bloor-Danforth-University subway line.
- In the 1960’s, consumers could see “the new Lady Schick Consolette”, advertised as a “portable-professional” hairdryer.
- Also in the 60’s, Borden’s had demonstrations on the various ways to use their dairy products. They also had ice cream booths on The Midway.
- In the 1980’s, ColecoVision came out with their second-generation home video game console. It cost approximately $200 and popular games included Donkey Kong and Lady Bug.
Animals at the CNE
The animals have always been and still continue to be a huge attraction, whether it’s for competition or display. In the early 1900’s, several buildings were constructed dedicated to specific animals. They include the Horse Palace, Cattle Pavilion, Swine Pavilion and Sheep Pavilion.
Another exhibit is The CNE Farm. Located in the Better Living Centre, it lets visitors get up-close to over 130 farmyard animals like piglets, alpacas, sheep, chickens, goats, cows and more. A few of the demonstrations at The Farm include sheep shearing and how cows are milked.
Garden Science in the Horticulture Building
For decades, CNE patrons could see award-winning flowers, fruits and vegetables on display inside the Horticulture Building. The previous Horticultural Hall was replaced in 1907 with today’s stunning domed Beaux-Arts pavilion that’s now home to the Toronto Event Centre.