CNE Exhibits – Promoting Growth of Agriculture, Industry & the Arts

1980's - ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex
1980’s – ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex (CNE Archives)

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

Demonstration of the telephone the Exhibition
Demonstration of the telephone the Exhibition (1888 CNE Archives)

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.

CNE Exhibits Photos

1879 - Dairy Building and Horticultural Hall at the Exhibition
1879 – Dairy Building and Horticultural Hall at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1883 - The first commercial electric railway at the Exhibition
1883 – The first commercial electric railway at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1888 - Telephone demonstration at the Exhibition
1888 – Telephone demonstration at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1891 - Ad for Dunbar's Prize Linen Threads
1891 – Ad for Dunbar’s Prize Linen Threads (CNE Archives)
1890's - Columbia Records display at the Exhibition
1890’s – Columbia Records display at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1899 - Ad for Cowan's Hygienic Cocoa in an Exhibition program
1899 – Ad for Cowan’s Hygienic Cocoa in an Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1903 - Fruit and experiment stations in the Horticulture Hall
1903 – Fruit and experiment stations in the Horticulture Hall (CNE Archives)
1906 - Cheese display at the Dairy Building
1906 – Cheese display at the Dairy Building (CNE Archives)
1905 - Canadian National Exhibition Toronto exhibitor's ticket
1905 – Canadian National Exhibition Toronto exhibitor’s ticket (CNE Archives)
1907 - Farm equipment display and Grandstand at the Canadian National Exhibition
1907 – Farm equipment display and Grandstand at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 271)
1913 - Exhibit for The Domestic Vacuum Cleaner Co. of Canada in the Manufacturers Building
1913 – Exhibit for The Domestic Vacuum Cleaner Co. of Canada in the Manufacturers Building (CNE Archives)
1914 - The Live Stock Building at the Exhibition
1914 – The Live Stock Building at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1916 - Exhibit by WH Banfield & Sons Limited in Machinery Hall
1916 – Exhibit by WH Banfield & Sons Limited in Machinery Hall (CNE Archives)
1916 - Ad for Wollnough Corsetiers in an Exhibition program
1916 – Ad for Wollnough Corsetiers in an Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1917 - Exhibit of gas lighting including table lamps, wall and ceiling fixtures at the CNE
1917 – Exhibit of gas lighting including table lamps, wall and ceiling fixtures at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 932)
1918 - Consumers Gas Company display of safety gas irons at the CNE
1918 – Consumers Gas Company display of safety gas irons at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 720)
1920 - The Toronto Daily Star Radio Building at the CNE
1920 – The Toronto Daily Star Radio Building at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3048)
1920's - Toronto Star radio station truck at the Canadian National Exhibition
1920’s – Toronto Star radio station truck at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1927 - Ad for Northern Electric Company Limited in the CNE catalogue
1927 – Ad for Northern Electric Company Limited in the CNE catalogue (CNE Heritage)
1920's - Automobile show inside the Transportation Building at the Exhibition
1920’s – Automobile show inside the Transportation Building at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1929 - Ad for Christie's Arrowroot Biscuits in an Exhibition program
1929 – Ad for Christie’s Arrowroot Biscuits in an Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1931 - GH Wood & Co. Limited display
1931 – GH Wood & Co. Limited display (CNE Archives)
1936 - Auto Show in the Automotive Building at the Canadian National Exhibition
1936 – Auto Show in the Automotive Building at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1930's - Sweet Caporal exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition
1930’s – Sweet Caporal exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1930's - Canada Packers Limited display
1930’s – Canada Packers Limited display (CNE Archives)
1936 - Christie's Biscuit display
1936 – Christie’s Biscuit display (CNE Archives)
1937 - Consumers Gas Company appliances on display with salespeople
1937 – Consumers Gas Company appliances on display with salespeople (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 634)
1938 - Ad for a Nash "Sleeping Comfort Anywhere" automobile exhibit
1938 – Ad for a Nash “Sleeping Comfort Anywhere” automobile exhibit (CNE Archives)
1939 - RCA television display at the Exhibition
1939 – RCA television display at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1940 - Ad for an Underwood typewriting battle taking place in the General Exhibits Building
1940 – Ad for an Underwood typewriting battle taking place in the General Exhibits Building (CNE Archives)
1947 - Ad for Loblaws at the Canadian National Exhibition
1947 – Ad for Loblaws at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1947 - Ad for Bendix home laundry washer in an Exhibition program
1947 – Ad for Bendix home laundry washer in an Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1949 - RCA Victor exhibit at the CNE
1949 – RCA Victor exhibit at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1950's - Boy with a hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition
1950’s – Boy with a hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1953 - CNE TV exhibit
1953 – CNE TV exhibit (CNE Archives)
1950's - Lorne Greene broadcasting for CKEY and promoting Alka-Seltzer at the CNE
1950’s – Lorne Greene broadcasting for CKEY and promoting Alka-Seltzer at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3080)
1954 - Chrysler Experimental Car on display at the CNE
1954 – Chrysler Experimental Car on display at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1957 - Ad for Simpson's in an Exhibition program
1957 – Ad for Simpson’s in an Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1959 - TTC exhibit in the Government Building at the CNE
1959 – TTC exhibit in the Government Building at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, File 54, ID 1)
1960's - General Motors car show in the Automotive Building at the CNE
1960’s – General Motors car show in the Automotive Building at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1960's - A "100 Jobs for Women" exhibit
1960’s – A “100 Jobs for Women” exhibit (CNE Archives)
1960's - Boy listening to a transistor radio at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960’s – Boy listening to a transistor radio at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1962 - The Great CNE Potato-Peeling Contest
1962 – The Great CNE Potato-Peeling Contest (CNE Archives)
1960's - Lady Schick Consolette demo at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960’s – Lady Schick Consolette demo at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1960's - Borden's demonstration
1960’s – Borden’s demonstration (CNE Archives)
1980 - Bobby Orr at the A&P demonstration kitchen
1980 – Bobby Orr at the A&P demonstration kitchen (CNE Archives)
1980's - ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex
1980’s – ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex (CNE Archives)
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