CNE Food – Classic Treats & Outrageous Foods We Crave at The Ex

1970's - Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway
1970’s – Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway (CNE Archives)

While the Midway is a big attraction at the CNE, the food may be bigger. Did you know that over one million people visit the Food Building during the 18 days of The Ex? It’s no wonder there’s such a variety of delicious foods to choose from, including comfort classics from Mac & Cheesery and Primo Spaghetti or perhaps something from one of Toronto’s local restaurants like San Francescos. There’s something for every taste and many sweet treats at the Canadian National Exhibition.

New Foods at the 2023 CNE

This year’s wild and wacky food lineup includes Quarter Pound Cheese-Stuffed Doritos®, Deep-fried Pizza slice, Canadian Thanksgiving Poutine, a 4-Pound Taco, Mac & Triple Cheese Chimichanga, Korean Fried Frog Legs, Holy Moly Cannoli, Butter Chicken Overload, Footlong Freakk Fries drizzled with Garlic Aioli, Krispy Kreme® Blueberry Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Poutine Pizza, Bacon-Wrapped Wings in two flavours Sweet Honey Thai or Hot Lime Siracha.

A few pink-themed offerings are Malibu Mac & Cheese, Watermelon Burger (a classic burger but with grilled watermelon slices replacing a bun), Pink Cookie Stuffed Chimney Cone and Pink Dragon Fruit-topped Japanese Souffles.

Last year’s Ex saw ketchup and mustard ice cream, and continuing with the savoury flavours, this year’s will be Street Corn or Cheeseburger served up in a cheddar-dipped cone. Prefer something pickle-flavoured? How about Pickle Cotton Candy, Peanut Butter Pickle Corndog or Green Pickle Fries.

Those looking for something sweet may like the Churros Smores, Sweet & Spicy Caramel Nuts or The Puffs Luv Pebbles. Or, for a twist on the classics, there’s Peanut Butter Jelly Corn, Street Corn Lemonade and Peanut Butter Chocolate Corndogs.

The History of Classic Treats

Tiny Tom Donuts: Ron and Syd Brazier began selling these delicious fried treats at the Ex in 1960. Served hot in little white bags, choose your favourite topping (icing sugar, chocolate, cinnamon or apple ‘n’ cinnamon), shake it in the bag and enjoy. Nearly 300,000 Tiny Tom Donuts are eaten during the CNE.

Cotton Candy: Did you know a dentist invented this finely spun sugar delight in the late 1800s?!

Funnel Cakes: This carnival treat is made by drizzling batter from a funnel into hot cooking oil. The result is a warm pastry that’s light and fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Dust it with icing sugar, or add some soft ice cream and a bit of jam. Funnel cake was invented the same year the Canadian National Exhibition began, in 1879.

1961 - Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex. This cool and crunchy treat was first introduced on the CNE Midway in 1940, and legend has it that it was created by a Conklin Shows employee
1961 – Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex. This cool and crunchy treat was first introduced on the CNE Midway in 1940 (CNE Archives)

Ice Cream Waffles: So the legend goes, Sharole Levan, a Midway employee of Conklin Shows, came up with the delicious idea of pairing cool sweet ice cream between two freshly made, crunchy, hot, golden brown waffles. It was a match made in food heaven. In 1940, when Conklin Shows (a travelling amusement company and provider of the Midway’s rides and games) arrived in Toronto for the annual fair, the first ice cream waffle was served. Sharole became known as the “Waffle Lady.” Since then, the iconic CNE treat has been enjoyed by generations of CNE visitors.

Candy Apples: This long-time favourite made its North American debut in Newark, NJ. It was 1908, and candy maker William Kolb was trying out different recipes for a Christmas treat using red cinnamon. To sell the sweet yet spicy confection, Mr Kolb put a stick into apples and dipped the fruit in the candy coating. He sold them for 5¢ a piece. Soon, the treat invented over a century ago was being served at candy shops, circuses, fairs and carnivals around North America and, eventually, the world.

Caramel Apples: Canadian-born James Kraft, founder of JL Kraft & Brothers Co based in Chicago, began making cheese in 1909. In 1933, Kraft introduced sweet, soft and chewy caramels to the world. So the story goes… in the 1950s, Dan Walker, a Kraft salesman, melted some caramels in a pot and dipped an apple in it. The caramel apple was born. Not only was this autumn treat a hit at carnivals and fairs, but people were also making it at home using the recipe printed on the Kraft caramel bag.

BeaverTails Pastry: This crunchy yet chewy, hot pastry was created by Pam and Grant Hooker of Ottawa in 1978. The hand-stretched Canadian classic has been served at the CNE since 1996. BeaverTails can be sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or topped with delicious spreads like chocolate hazelnut, vanilla icing or cheesecake.

Corn Dogs: Many people have claimed to invent the cornmeal batter-dipped hot dog on a stick. The patent for the corn dog cooking apparatus was applied for in the 1920s; however, the savoury fair staple did not become wildly popular until the 1940s. At the 2016 CNE, the re-imagined pickle corn dog was one of the year’s most popular new foods!

Deep Fried Pickles: These crunchy, sour treats were popularized by Bernell “Fatman” Austin in Atkins, Arkansas, in 1963. His restaurant, the Duchess Drive-In, was across the highway from the Atkins Pickle Company plant. As a gimmick to attract customers to his restaurant, Mr Austin began serving dill pickles cut lengthwise, breaded and deep fried until golden brown. They were a hit. Since then, these Southern savouries can be found at restaurants and fairs across the US and Canada, cut in spears, chips or slices and usually served with cool, creamy ranch dressing.

The Food Building

2021 - Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave, Exhibition Place
2021 – Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave, Exhibition Place

The Food Building was designed by architect Richard Fisher and was completed in 1954. The building, located at 10 Nova Scotia Ave, was the second in a series of structures that exemplified mid-century Modern style. At the cost of approximately $1.5 million, the simplistic elements of the white, pre-cast panel building include windowless walls with two rows of lamps on its main facade.

On the east and west sides of the Food Building are two bronze sculptures featuring five leaping fish over a reflecting pool. Designed by Canadian artist Jean Horne, they’re one of a few of her works on public display, as most are in private collections.

Until 1975, the Food Building had an exterior 24 m or 80 ft stainless-steel tower to the right of the south entrance. Called “The Needle,” the artwork was an interesting focal point; however, over time, the piece deteriorated and had to be dismantled.

Did You Know?

  • Before today’s Food Building and on the same site, CNE patrons visited the Pure Food Building. It was completed for the 1922 CNE at the cost of $150,000. The unique-looking structure was demolished after the 1953 CNE.
  • The Grandstand was the first structure built that was part of the Modernist architecture movement at The Ex. At the same time, the Queen Elizabeth Building and Theatre, the Dufferin Gate, the former Hockey Hall of Fame and the Better Living Centre followed the Food Building.
  • Some of the outrageous foods we’ve seen in the past at The Ex include deep-fried butter (2010), deep-fried red velvet Oreo (2015), deep-fried cheese curds (2017) and deep-fried avocado (2019). In 2022, food offerings included ketchup and mustard soft-serve ice cream, edible rainbow slime candy, deep-fried coffee, croffles, Krispy Kreme® pulled pork, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos® smash burger and burrito, and mac and cheese pizza and mac and cheese lemonade!
  • The iconic lettering “FOOD” on top of the south side of the building is in a sans-serif font.
  • 80% of all CNE-goers visit the Food Building.

CNE Food Photos

Between 1954 and 1960 - Crowds at the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Modern style building opened in 1954
Between 1954 and 1960 – Crowds at the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Modern style building opened in 1954 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5680)
2021 - Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave at Toronto's Exhibition Place
2021 – Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave at Toronto’s Exhibition Place
1970s - Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway. Notice the fashion of the decade - jean cut-offs and plaid high-waisted bell-bottom pants
1970s – Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway. Notice the fashion of the decade – jean cut-offs and plaid high-waisted bell-bottom pants (CNE Archives)
2022 – Fresh-squeezed, ice cold Lemonade stand at The Ex
2022 – Fresh-squeezed, ice cold Lemonade stand at The Ex
1965 - Shopsy's corned beef booth on The Midway
1965 – Shopsy’s corned beef booth on The Midway. In 1921, Harry and Jennie Shopsowitz opened the family-operated Shopsowitz Delicatessen at 295 Spadina Ave. In the years to come, it would become known as Shopsy’s (CNE Archives)
2022 – The Gourmet Grill featuring Smash Burgers at The Ex. Notice the Toronto FC sign at BMO Field
2022 – The Gourmet Grill featuring Smash Burgers at The Ex. Notice the Toronto FC sign at BMO Field
1961 – Enjoying a Honey Dew hot dog and perhaps their signature orange soft drink at the Canadian National Exhibition. Honey Dew was a very popular restaurant chain which closed most of its locations in 1972
1961 – Enjoying a Honey Dew hot dog and perhaps their signature orange soft drink at the Canadian National Exhibition. Honey Dew was a very popular restaurant chain which closed most of its locations in 1972 (CNE Archives)
1953 – A night photo of the CNE Midway. Notice the 15¢ Ice Cream Waffles along with Planters Peanuts booths on the right
1953 – A night photo of the CNE Midway. Notice the 15¢ Ice Cream Waffles along with Planters Peanuts booths on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 138)
1961 – Looking east along the CNE Midway. Notice the Coliseum (before its south side domes were removed) in the distance and the 15¢ Ice Cream Waffles booth on the right
1961 – Looking east along the CNE Midway. Notice the Coliseum (before its south side domes were removed) in the distance and the 15¢ Ice Cream Waffles booth on the right (CNE Archives)
2022 – Deep Fried Pickles on the CNE Midway. This savoury treat was popularized by Bernell "Fatman" Austin in Atkins, Arkansas, in 1963. As a gimmick to attract customers, he began breaded and deep-fried dill pickles at his restaurant, the Duchess Drive-In, which was across the highway from the Atkins Pickle Company plant
2022 – Deep Fried Pickles on the CNE Midway. This savoury treat was popularized by Bernell “Fatman” Austin in Atkins, Arkansas, in 1963. As a gimmick to attract customers, he began breaded and deep-fried dill pickles at his restaurant, the Duchess Drive-In, which was across the highway from the Atkins Pickle Company plant
2022 – Ketchup and Mustard soft serve ice cream on the Midway. This was one of 2022 CNE's outrageous new food items
2022 – Ketchup and Mustard soft serve ice cream on the Midway. This was one of 2022 CNE’s outrageous new food items
August 27, 1929 - Giving out Ice cream cones on Kids Day at the Canadian National Exhibition
August 27, 1929 – Giving out Ice cream cones on Kids Day at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 17693)
1961 - Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex. This cool and crunchy treat was first introduced on the CNE Midway in 1940, and legend has it that it was created by a Conklin Shows employee
1961 – Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex. This cool and crunchy treat was first introduced on the CNE Midway in 1940, and legend has it that it was created by a Conklin Shows employee (CNE Archives)
2019 - A CNE original - a delicious hot ice cream waffle on the Midway. This iconic treat was first introduced in 1940 and, since that time, has been enjoyed by generations of CNE visitors
2019 – A CNE original – a delicious hot ice cream waffle on the Midway. This iconic treat was first introduced in 1940 and, since that time, has been enjoyed by generations of CNE visitors
2020 – The Canadian National Exhibition celebrated the 80th anniversary of the ice cream waffle
2020 – The Canadian National Exhibition celebrated the 80th anniversary of the ice cream waffle (CNE Archives)
2022 - A Hot Ice Cream Waffles booth on the CNE Midway. In 2022, they were $5 each. Notice the Sky Ride, the Enercare Centre and the CN Tower in the background
2022 – A Hot Ice Cream Waffles booth on the CNE Midway. In 2022, they were $5 each. Notice the Sky Ride, the Enercare Centre and the CN Tower in the background
1974 - Borden booth on the Midway, CNE-goers could buy milkshakes for 50¢ and milk, lemonade, a cold drink, an ice cream pie or a fudgy wudgy for 20¢
1974 – Borden booth on the Midway, CNE-goers could buy milkshakes for 50¢ and milk, lemonade, a cold drink, an ice cream pie or a fudgy wudgy for 20¢ (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 95, Item 45)
1978 – Centennial Deli at the Canadian National Exhibition
1978 – Centennial Deli at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 95, Item 77)
1955 – Barbecue King Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers on the Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Ferris Wheels, the Rotor and the Shell Oil Tower in the background
1955 – Barbecue King Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers on the Midway at the Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Ferris Wheels, the Rotor and the Shell Oil Tower in the background (CNE Archives)
1974 - Honey Dew stand at the CNE serving hot dogs, chicken and their signature orange drink. Honey Dew was a very popular restaurant chain which closed most of its outlets in 1972
1974 – Honey Dew stand at the CNE serving hot dogs, chicken and their signature orange drink. Honey Dew was a very popular restaurant chain which closed most of its outlets in 1972 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 95, Item 124)
1959 - Cooling off at the Coca-Cola booth at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1959 – Cooling off at the Coca-Cola booth at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
2022 – Tiny Tom's Donuts inside the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. Hot and delicious, these little fried treats were first served by Ron and Syd Brazier at the 1960 CNE
2022 – Tiny Tom’s Donuts inside the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. Hot and delicious, these little fried treats were first served by Ron and Syd Brazier at the 1960 CNE
2022 – Tiny Tom’s Mini Donut Factory at The Ex. These soft, hot and delicious donuts are served in a little white paper bag. Just choose your topping (icing sugar, cinnamon, apple ‘n’ cinnamon or chocolate), shake the bag and enjoy!! This photo was taken before the booth opened
2022 – Tiny Tom’s Mini Donut Factory at The Ex. These soft, hot and delicious donuts are served in a little white paper bag. Just choose your topping (icing sugar, cinnamon, apple ‘n’ cinnamon or chocolate), shake the bag and enjoy!! This photo was taken before the booth opened
1968 - Bavarian Garden restaurant at The Ex
1968 – Bavarian Garden restaurant at The Ex (CNE Archives)
2022 – Coors Original cowboy boot and spur in front of the Northern Comfort Saloon, located next to the Food Building's west side
2022 – Coors Original cowboy boot and spur in front of the Northern Comfort Saloon, located next to the Food Building’s west side
Between 1954 and 1960 - Looking west towards crowds in front of the Food Building and The Needle during the CNE. The Food Building was opened in 1954 and featured artwork known as "The Needle" to the right of the building's main entrance. The stainless-steel pylon stood 24 m or 80 ft tall but was taken down in 1975 due to deterioration
Between 1954 and 1960 – Looking west towards crowds in front of the Food Building and The Needle during the CNE. The Food Building was opened in 1954 and featured artwork known as “The Needle” to the right of the building’s main entrance. The stainless-steel pylon stood 24 m or 80 ft tall but was taken down in 1975 due to deterioration (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5679)
1960 - Looking east on Princes' Blvd, from west of today's Newfoundland Rd during a parade at the CNE. Notice the snow cones booth and the dining hall that features chicken, fish & chips and hamburgers
1960 – Looking east on Princes’ Blvd, from west of today’s Newfoundland Rd during a parade at the CNE. Notice the snow cones booth and the dining hall that features chicken, fish & chips and hamburgers (CNE Archives)
1960s - Enjoying pink cotton candy on The Midway
1960s – Enjoying pink cotton candy on The Midway (CNE Archives)
2022 – Cotton candy, frozen lemonade, candy apples and sno kones stand on the CNE Midway
2022 – Cotton candy, frozen lemonade, candy apples and sno kones stand on the CNE Midway
2019 - Rainbow toast ponchos were one of the more wild foods during the 2019 CNE
2019 – Rainbow toast ponchos were one of the more wild foods during the 2019 CNE (The Ex)
2020 – Funnel Cakes at the Canadian National Exhibition both began in 1879. The fair favourite is made by drizzling batter from a funnel into hot cooking oil then topping it with icing sugar or ice cream, whipped cream and strawberry sauce
2020 – Funnel Cakes at the Canadian National Exhibition both began in 1879. The fair favourite is made by drizzling batter from a funnel into hot cooking oil then topping it with icing sugar or ice cream, whipped cream and strawberry sauce (CNE Archives)
1965 - Colonel Harland David Sanders holding a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at the Canadian National Exhibition
1965 – Colonel Harland David Sanders holding a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1982 – The Kentucky Fried Chicken area at the Canadian National Exhibition featured pony rides along with KFC bucket-shaped light covers and a huge inflatable
1982 – The Kentucky Fried Chicken area at the Canadian National Exhibition featured pony rides along with KFC bucket-shaped light covers and a huge inflatable (CNE Archives)
1950s - The Donlands Dairy booth at the Canadian National Exhibition. CNE visitors could purchase a king-size chocolate milkshake for 20¢ or a regular-size shake, fresh milk or buttermilk for 10¢
1950s – The Donlands Dairy booth at the Canadian National Exhibition. CNE visitors could purchase a king-size chocolate milkshake for 20¢ or a regular-size shake, fresh milk or buttermilk for 10¢ (CNE Archives)
2022 – Chicken tenders, chicken on a stick, chicken & chips and chicken poutine booth in front of BMO Field before the CNE Midway opens
2022 – Chicken tenders, chicken on a stick, chicken & chips and chicken poutine booth in front of BMO Field before the CNE Midway opens
1953 - Royal Canadian Navy Band in the Warriors Day Parade at the CNE, Neilson's ice cream booth and the former Electrical Building are in the background
1953 – Royal Canadian Navy Band in the Warriors Day Parade at the CNE, Neilson’s ice cream booth and the former Electrical Building are in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 124)
2022 – Candy Time at The Ex featuring candy apples, cotton candy, popcorn, slushies and snow cones
2022 – Candy Time at The Ex featuring candy apples, cotton candy, popcorn, slushies and snow cones
2019 - Flaming CHEETOS® corn dog was one of the feature foods a the 2019 CNE
2019 – Flaming CHEETOS® corn dog was one of the feature foods a the 2019 CNE (The Ex)
2022 – Roasted Corn stand and the Sky Ride at the Canadian National Exhibitio
2022 – Roasted Corn stand and the Sky Ride at the Canadian National Exhibition
2020 - South entrance of the Food Building
2020 – South entrance of the Food Building
1955 - One of the two bronze fish sculptures leaping over reflecting pools on the east and west exterior of the Food Building at Exhibition Place. The sculptures were created by Canadian artist Jean Horne
1955 – One of the two bronze fish sculptures leaping over reflecting pools on the east and west exterior of the Food Building at Exhibition Place. The sculptures were created by Canadian artist Jean Horne (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 420)
1960s - A northwest view of the Food Building and The Needle at The Ex. The mid-century Modern style building was designed by architect Richard Fisher and was completed in 1954. It cost $1.5 million to construct and replaced the Exhibition's previous Food Products building, which was located on a portion of the same site from 1922 until 1953
1960s – A northwest view of the Food Building and The Needle at The Ex. The mid-century Modern style building was designed by architect Richard Fisher and was completed in 1954. It cost $1.5 million to construct and replaced the Exhibition’s previous Food Products building, which was located on a portion of the same site from 1922 until 1953 (CNE Archives)
2022 – Ice Cream stand selling shakes, cones and sundaes on the CNE Midway
2022 – Ice Cream stand selling shakes, cones and sundaes on the CNE Midway
1954 - An aerial view of the Food Building in the year of completion. The simplistic elements of the white, pre-cast panel building include windowless walls with two rows of lamps on its main facade
1954 – An aerial view of the Food Building in the year of completion. The simplistic elements of the white, pre-cast panel building include windowless walls with two rows of lamps on its main facade (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1954 - 1954 - Looking northwest towards the Food Building nearing construction completion at Exhibition Place. The building opened for the 1954 Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Gardiner Expressway had not yet been builtof the Food Building at Exhibition Place, looking northwest
1954 – Looking northwest towards the Food Building nearing construction completion at Exhibition Place. The building opened for the 1954 Canadian National Exhibition. Notice the Gardiner Expressway had not yet been built (CNE Archives)
1940 - Pure Food Building, the previous food building at the CNE was in existence from 1922 until 1953. It was located on the same site as today's food building
1940 – Pure Food Building, the previous food building at the CNE was in existence from 1922 until 1953. It was located on the same site as today’s food building (Library and Archives Canada a060591)
1929 - The Pure Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. The architectural masterpiece was designed by Alfred Chapman, James Oxley and Roy Bishop. It opened for 1922 Exhibition and shortly after that year's annual fair was over, there were already requests to increase the size of the building
1929 – The Pure Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. The architectural masterpiece was designed by Alfred Chapman, James Oxley and Roy Bishop. It opened for 1922 Exhibition and shortly after that year’s annual fair was over, there were already requests to increase the size of the building (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1230, Item 3502)
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