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

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1980s - ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex
1980s – 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 1900s, while the fair kept 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 many years, people visited The Ex to see the latest consumer products, innovations and even inventions.

Historic Firsts at the Canadian National Exhibition

Some of the significant technological breakthroughs first presented at the Exhibition include:

  • In 1883, the world’s 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 1930s, patrons of The Ex got their first look at a television by RCA Victor.
  • Through the 1940s and ’50s, plastics and synthetics were first introduced.
  • In 1992, visitors to the CNE could put on a headset and step into virtual-reality gaming.

Exhibits at The Ex

1888 - Demonstration of the telephone at the Exhibition
1888 – Demonstration of the telephone at the Exhibition (CNE Archives)

Throughout the early years, while the latest in farm machinery was on display for those in agriculture, significant 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 cars/companies like Auburn, Hupmobile by Hupp Motor Car Company of Detroit and Pontiac. In the decades to follow, experimental/concept cars were shown by the “Big Three” automakers. Today the Automotive Building is known as the Beanfield Centre.
  • In 1937, Consumers Gas Co. salespeople showed their latest radiant gas fireplaces, gas refrigeration and more.
  • In 1953, years after CNE visitors had their first look at TV, the device became mainstream.
  • In the 1950s, 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 has showcased their latest streetcars, subways, buses and routes, including the upcoming Bloor-Danforth-University subway line.
  • In the 1960s, consumers saw “the new Lady Schick Consolette,” advertised as a “portable-professional” hairdryer.
  • Also, in the ’60s, Borden’s had demonstrations on the various ways to use their dairy products. They also had ice cream booths on The Midway.
  • In the 1980s, ColecoVision came out with their second-generation home video game console. It cost approximately $200, and popular games included Donkey Kong and Lady Bug.
1950s - Boy with a Hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition
1950s – Boy with a Hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)

Animals at the CNE

Animals have always been and continue to be a huge attraction, whether for competition or display. While livestock structures always existed on Exhibition grounds, during the 1920s and early 1930s, many of the present-day buildings were constructed. They include the Coliseum and its East and West Annexes, the Cattle Pavilion, Swine Pavilion and Horse Palace.

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 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, plants, 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 Toronto Industrial Exhibition, today's CNE. These two early Exhibition buildings, along with several more, were designed by architects Stewart & Strickland. Both were constructed of wood, the Dairy Buildings cost $1,600 to construct, and the Horticulture Hall was $2,500
1879 – Dairy Building and Horticultural Hall at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, today’s CNE. These two early Exhibition buildings, along with several more, were designed by architects Stewart & Strickland. Both were constructed of wood, the Dairy Buildings cost $1,600 to construct, and the Horticulture Hall was $2,500 (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)
1890s - Columbia Records display at the Exhibition
1890s – 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 near the Grandstand and Driving Ring at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Auto Scenic Dips, a Midway ride, in the background
1907 – Farm equipment display near the Grandstand and Driving Ring at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Auto Scenic Dips, a Midway ride, in the background (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)
September 11, 1914 - Public schools medical inspection department display at the Canadian National Exhibition
September 11, 1914 – Public schools medical inspection department display at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 11, Item 119)
1914 - The Live Stock Building at the Exhibition was designed by architect George W Gouinlock and completed in 1905. It was replaced in 1921 by the Coliseum
1914 – The Live Stock Building at the Exhibition was designed by architect George W Gouinlock and completed in 1905. It was replaced in 1921 by the Coliseum (CNE Archives)
1916 - Exhibit by WH Banfield & Sons Limited in Machinery Hall. This primarily wooden building was built in 1899 designed by Mark Hall, who was also the architect behind No 8 Fire Hall at College St and Bellevue Ave. Machinery Hall was later renamed the Stove Building. The structure wad demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the Gardiner Expressway
1916 – Exhibit by WH Banfield & Sons Limited in Machinery Hall. This primarily wooden building was built in 1899 designed by Mark Hall, who was also the architect behind No 8 Fire Hall at College St and Bellevue Ave. Machinery Hall was later renamed the Stove Building. The structure wad demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the Gardiner Expressway (CNE Archives)
1916 - Ad for Wollnough Corsetiers in an Exhibition program. The company was displaying their new corsets in the Manufacturers' Building
1916 – Ad for Wollnough Corsetiers in an Exhibition program. The company was displaying their new corsets in the Manufacturers’ Building (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 Canadian National Exhibition
1918 – Consumers Gas Company display of safety gas irons at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 720)
Circa 1918 - Modern living room exhibit with gas radiant fire and gas lighting fixtures at the Canadian National Exhibition
Circa 1918 – Modern living room exhibit with gas radiant fire and gas lighting fixtures at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 715)
Circa 1918 – Thrift cooking demonstration by the Consumers Gas Company at the CNE
Circa 1918 – Thrift cooking demonstration by the Consumers Gas Company at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 707)
1920 – H. P. Sauce ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Manufacturers' Building
1920 – H. P. Sauce ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Manufacturers’ Building (CNE Archives)
1920 - The Canadian Independent Telephone Co and the Telephone Toronto Daily Star Radio Building at the CNE
1920 – The Canadian Independent Telephone Co and the Telephone Toronto Daily Star Radio Building at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3048)
1920s - Toronto Star radio station truck in front of the Government Building, which is today home to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
1920s – Toronto Star radio station truck in front of the Government Building, which is today home to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament (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)
1920s - Packard and Dodge cars on display at the Automobile Show inside the Transportation Building
1920s – Packard and Dodge cars on display at the Automobile Show inside the Transportation Building (CNE Archives)
1928 - T Eaton Co Limited ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program
1928 – T Eaton Co Limited ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program (CNE Archives)
1928 – Weston English Biscuit ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their shop in the Pure Food Building
1928 – Weston English Biscuit ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their shop in the Pure Food Building (CNE Archives)
1929 - Christie's Biscuits ad in the Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Pure Food Building
1929 – Christie’s Biscuits ad in the Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Pure Food Building (CNE Archives)
1929 - Westinghouse ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Electrical Building
1929 – Westinghouse ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Electrical Building (CNE Archives)
1929 – Winchester Cigarettes ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Industrial & Process Building, which was once located north of the Administration/Press Building
1929 – Winchester Cigarettes ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their booth in the Industrial & Process Building, which was once located north of the Administration/Press Building (CNE Archives)
1929 – Victor-Radio ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their exhibit in the Music Building, which was once located where the Queen Elizabeth Building stands today
1929 – Victor-Radio ad in the Canadian National Exhibition program promoting their exhibit in the Music Building, which was once located where the Queen Elizabeth Building stands today (CNE Archives)
1931 - GH Wood & Co. Limited display
1931 – GH Wood & Co. Limited display (CNE Archives)
1931 - The Gray Coach Lines exhibit of Toronto Coach Terminal at the Canadian National Exhibition. Charles B Dolphin, the building’s architect, designed a cardboard model of the terminal building and nine to-scale wooden coaches to verify the buses’ parking, turning and movement
1931 – The Gray Coach Lines exhibit of Toronto Coach Terminal at the Canadian National Exhibition. Charles B Dolphin, the building’s architect, designed a cardboard model of the terminal building and nine to-scale wooden coaches to verify the buses’ parking, turning and movement (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 8868)
1933 - Consumers' Gas Co refrigeration exhibit at the CNE
1933 – Consumers’ Gas Co refrigeration exhibit at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 446)
1935 – A&P – The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co Ltd ad in the Exhibition program promoting their booths in the Pure Food Building
1935 – A&P – The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co Ltd ad in the Exhibition program promoting their booths in the Pure Food Building (CNE Archives)
1936 - Auto Show in the Automotive Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. Brands on display include Hupmobile, Auburn and Terralane
1936 – Auto Show in the Automotive Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. Brands on display include Hupmobile, Auburn and Terralane (CNE Archives)
1936 – Typing Competition Finalists in the Coliseum
1936 – Typing Competition Finalists in the Coliseum (CNE Archives)
1936 – Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition
1936 – Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1930s - Sweet Caporal exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition
1930s – Sweet Caporal exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1930s - Canada Packers Limited display of Domestic Shortening. Notice in the centre of the photo, there was a "Guess the weight of the block of Domestic" contest
1930s – Canada Packers Limited display of Domestic Shortening. Notice in the centre of the photo, there was a “Guess the weight of the block of Domestic” contest (CNE Archives)
1936 - Christie's Biscuit "The Standard of Quality Since 1853" display
1936 – Christie’s Biscuit “The Standard of Quality Since 1853” 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)
1937 - The Goblin Electric Cleaner Co Limited display at the Canadian National Exhibition, featuring a woman dressed as a goblin
1937 – The Goblin Electric Cleaner Co Limited display at the Canadian National Exhibition, featuring a woman dressed as a goblin (CNE Archives)
1938 - Ad for a Nash "Sleeping Comfort Anywhere" automobile exhibit
1938 – Ad for a Nash “Sleeping Comfort Anywhere” automobile exhibit (CNE Archives)
1938 - The TTC's new Streamliner streetcar on display at The Ex
1938 – The TTC’s new Streamliner streetcar on display at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1939 - RCA television consoles on display at the Canadian National Exhibition
1939 – RCA television consoles on display at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1940 - Ad for an Underwood 14-day, non-stop typewriting battle taking place in the General Exhibits Building
1940 – Ad for an Underwood 14-day, non-stop typewriting battle taking place in the General Exhibits Building (CNE Archives)
1947 - Ad for Loblaws display at the Canadian National Exhibition. The company manufactured and packaged their specialty brands at the Loblaw Groceterias Building at Lake Shore Blvd W and Bathurst St
1947 – Ad for Loblaws display at the Canadian National Exhibition. The company manufactured and packaged their specialty brands at the Loblaw Groceterias Building at Lake Shore Blvd W and Bathurst St (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)
1947 - A ad for "Planter's Cocktail Peanuts in the famous vacuum packed can" in the Canadian National Exhibition program. Planter's opened their first international office in Toronto in the mid-1920s in a building once at 73-77 Florence Ave
1947 – A ad for “Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts in the famous vacuum packed can” in the Canadian National Exhibition program. Planter’s opened their first international office in Toronto in the mid-1920s in a building once at 73-77 Florence Ave (CNE Archives)
1949 - RCA Victor exhibit at the CNE. The back wall of the display says, "First in recorded music"
1949 – RCA Victor exhibit at the CNE. The back wall of the display says, “First in recorded music” (CNE Archives)
1950s - Boy with a Hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition
1950s – Boy with a Hereford bull in front of the Swine Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1953 - A wall of TVs on display at the Canadian National Exhibition
1953 – A wall of TVs on display at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1950s - Lorne Greene broadcasting for CKEY and promoting Alka-Seltzer at the CNE
1950s – Lorne Greene broadcasting for CKEY and promoting Alka-Seltzer at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3080)
1954 - Experimental Chrysler car on display at the Canadian National Exhibition
1954 – Experimental Chrysler car on display at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1955 – Kitchen World exhibit with Marie Fraser at the Canadian National Exhibition
1955 – Kitchen World exhibit with Marie Fraser at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1953 - TTC subway cars on display at the CNE
1953 – TTC subway cars on display at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 577, Item 102)
1957 - Ad for Simpson's in an Exhibition program. Simpson's department store exhibit in the Manufacturers' Building featured "bedroom gowns, ski chalet, tack shop, gold and silver treasures, exquisitely furnished rooms"
1957 – Ad for Simpson’s in an Exhibition program. Simpson’s department store exhibit in the Manufacturers’ Building featured “bedroom gowns, ski chalet, tack shop, gold and silver treasures, exquisitely furnished rooms” (CNE Archives)
1959 - TTC exhibit in the Government Building at the CNE for the Bloor-Danforth-University Subway. The project officially began in November 1959
1959 – TTC exhibit in the Government Building at the CNE for the Bloor-Danforth-University Subway. The project officially began in November 1959 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, File 54, ID 1)
1960s - General Motors car display in the Automotive Building at the CNE
1960s – General Motors car display in the Automotive Building at the CNE (CNE Archives)
1960s - The General Exhibits Building at the Canadian National Exhibition originally served as the Electrical and Engineering Building. It was completed in 1929, and its colonnade featured eight magnificent concrete statues crafted by Charles McKechnie. The building was torn down in 1972, and four of the statues are on display in the Enercare Building's Heritage Court
1960s – The General Exhibits Building at the Canadian National Exhibition originally served as the Electrical and Engineering Building. It was completed in 1929, and its colonnade featured eight magnificent concrete statues crafted by Charles McKechnie. The building was torn down in 1972, and four of the statues are on display in the Enercare Building’s Heritage Court (CNE Archives)
1960s - A "100 Jobs for Women" exhibit
1960s – A “100 Jobs for Women” exhibit (CNE Archives)
1960s - Boy listening to a transistor radio from the second-floor portico balcony at the Administration/Press Building during the CNE. Notice the Princess Margaret Fountain and the Better Living Centre in the background
1960s – Boy listening to a transistor radio from the second-floor portico balcony at the Administration/Press Building during the CNE. Notice the Princess Margaret Fountain and the Better Living Centre in the background (CNE Archives)
1960s - Models and mannequins displaying the latest clothing by Kitten Sweaters at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – Models and mannequins displaying the latest clothing by Kitten Sweaters at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1961 – TTC subway cars on display next to the Gardiner Expressway at the CNE
1961 – TTC subway cars on display next to the Gardiner Expressway at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, File 112, Item 9)
1962 - The Telegram and Toronto Star employees in the Great CNE Potato-Peeling Contest
1962 – The Telegram and Toronto Star employees in the Great CNE Potato-Peeling Contest (CNE Archives)
1962 - CFTO Channel 9 Toronto booth in front of the Electrical Building. Completed in 1929 and initially known as the Electrical and Engineering Building, it was designed by Chapman & Oxley, who also designed the neighbouring Princes' Gates. The beautiful building was torn down in 1972 due to the numerous repairs it needed; however, four of the eight statues that once adorned the colonnade are on display in Heritage Court in the Enercare Centre. Other relics salvaged from the building are in front of the Berkeley Street Theatre at 26 Berkeley St
1962 – CFTO Channel 9 Toronto booth in front of the Electrical Building. Completed in 1929 and initially known as the Electrical and Engineering Building, it was designed by Chapman & Oxley, who also designed the neighbouring Princes’ Gates. The beautiful building was torn down in 1972 due to the numerous repairs it needed; however, four of the eight statues that once adorned the colonnade are on display in Heritage Court in the Enercare Centre. Other relics salvaged from the building are in front of the Berkeley Street Theatre at 26 Berkeley St (CNE Archives)
1960s - Lady Schick Consolette demo at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – Lady Schick Consolette demo at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1960s - Borden's dairy products demonstration. The company had been in business since 1899
1960s – Borden’s dairy products demonstration. The company had been in business since 1899 (CNE Archives)
1960s - General Motors Car Show at the Canadian National Exhibition
1960s – General Motors Car Show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1962 – Shirley Blatchford and Margaret Hintenseer emerging from Lake Ontario in an Amphicar after successfully crossing from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the CNE grounds. The Amphicar was later on display at the Auto Show
1962 – Shirley Blatchford and Margaret Hintenseer emerging from Lake Ontario in an Amphicar after successfully crossing from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the CNE grounds. The Amphicar was later on display at the Auto Show (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5793)
1962 – The Amphicar in front of the Princess Margaret Fountain with the Better Living Centre in the background, at Exhibition Place. The Amphicar was later on display at the Auto Show
1962 – The Amphicar in front of the Princess Margaret Fountain with the Better Living Centre in the background, at Exhibition Place. The Amphicar was later on display at the Auto Show (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5784)
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
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 (CNE Archives)
1980 - Bobby Orr at the A&P demonstration kitchen
1980 – Bobby Orr at the A&P demonstration kitchen (CNE Archives)
1980s - ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex. In the early 1980s, ColecoVision was one of the hottest second-generation home video-game consoles. Popular games included Donkey Kong and Lady Bug
1980s – ColecoVision video game exhibit at The Ex. In the early 1980s, ColecoVision was one of the hottest second-generation home video-game consoles. Popular games included Donkey Kong and Lady Bug (CNE Archives)
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