CNE Food – The 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 during the 18 days of The Ex, over one million people visit the Food Building? It’s no wonder as 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 along with many sweet treats at the Canadian National Exhibition.

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 this finely spun sugar delight was invented by a dentist in the late 1800’s?!

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.

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.

1961 - Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex
1961 – Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex (CNE Archives)

Ice Cream Waffles: Invented in 1940 by a Conklin Show (provider of Midway rides and games) employee, this treat sandwiches cool ice cream between two golden-brown, warm and crunchy waffles.

Candy Apples: This long-time favourite made it’s 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 then dipped the fruit in the candy coating. He sold them for 5¢ a piece. Soon, the treat that was 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 and founder of JL Kraft & Brothers Co based in Chicago, first began making cheese in 1909. In 1933, Kraft introduced sweet, soft and chewy caramels to the world. So the story goes… in the 1950’s, Dan Walker who was 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, people were also making it at home using the recipe printed on the Kraft caramels bag.

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 1920’s however the savoury fair staple did not become wildly popular until the 1940’s. At the 2016 CNE, one of the most popular new foods that year was the re-imagined pickle corn dog!

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 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 a 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 each featuring five leaping fish over a reflecting pool. Designed by Canadian artist Jean Horne, they’re one of a few of her works that are on public display as most are in private collections.

Until 1975, the Food Building had a 24 m or 80 ft stainless-steel pylon 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?

  • Prior to today’s Food Building and on the same site, CNE patrons visited the Pure Food Building. It was completed for the 1922 CNE at a 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 while the Queen Elizabeth Building, The Dufferin Gate, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Better Living Centre followed the Food Building.
  • Some of the outrageous foods we’ve seen at The Ex include: deep-fried butter (2010), deep-fried red velvet Oreo (2015), deep-fried cheese curds (2017) and deep-fried avocado (2019).
  • The iconic lettering “FOOD” on top of the south side of the building are in sans-serif font.
  • 80% of all CNE-goers visit the Food Building.

CNE Food Photos

1954/60 - Crowds in front of the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition
1954/60 – Crowds at the Food Building at the Canadian National Exhibition (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5680)
2021 - Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave, Exhibition Place
2021 – Food Building at 10 Nova Scotia Ave, Exhibition Place
1970's - Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway
1970’s – Enjoying cotton candy and sno cones on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1965 - Shopsy's corned beef booth on The Midway
1965 – Shopsy’s corned beef booth on The Midway (CNE Archives)
1961 - Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex
1961 – Sharing an ice cream waffle at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1974 - Borden ice cream booth at the CNE
1974 – Borden ice cream booth at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 95, Item 45)
1961 - Crowds on The Midway and 15¢ ice cream waffles on right
1961 – Crowds on The Midway and 15¢ ice cream waffles on right (CNE Archives)
1974 - Honey Dew Stand at the CNE
1974 – Honey Dew Stand at the CNE (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 95, Item 124)
1959 - Taking a break at the Coca-Cola booth, at the Canadian National Exhibition
1959 – Taking a break at the Coca-Cola booth, at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
Tiny Tom Donuts ad
Tiny Tom Donuts ad (CNE Archives)
1968 - Bavarian Gardens at The Ex
1968 – Bavarian Gardens at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1954/60 - The Food Building and The Needle at the CNE, looking west
1954/60 – The Food Building and The Needle at the CNE, looking west (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5679)
1960 - The Midway with food stands during a parade
1960 – The Midway with food stands during a parade (CNE Archives)
1960's - Enjoying pink cotton candy on The Midway
1960’s – Enjoying pink cotton candy on The Midway (CNE Archives)
2019 - Rainbow toast ponchos
2019 – Rainbow toast ponchos (The Ex)
1965 - Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders at the Canadian National Exhibition
1965 – Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Colonel Sanders at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1950's - Donlands Dairy booth at the Canadian National Exhibition
1950’s – Donlands Dairy booth at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1953 - Royal Canadian Navy Band in the Warriors Day Parade at the CNE, Neilson's ice cream in the background
1953 – Royal Canadian Navy Band in the Warriors Day Parade at the CNE, Neilson’s ice cream in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 124)
2019 - Flaming CHEETOS® corn dog
2019 – Flaming CHEETOS® corn dog (The Ex)
1955 - One of the two fish fountains beside the Food Building at Exhibition Place
1955 – One of the two fish fountains beside the Food Building at Exhibition Place (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 536, Item 420)
2020 - South entrance of the Food Building
2020 – South entrance of the Food Building
1960's - A view of the Food Building and The Needle at The Ex, looking northwest
1960’s – A view of the Food Building and The Needle at The Ex, looking northwest (CNE Archives)
1954 - Food Building at the CNE, in the year of completion
1954 – Food Building at the CNE, in the year of completion (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1954 - Construction of the Food Building at Exhibition Place, looking northwest
1954 – Construction of the Food Building at Exhibition Place, looking northwest (CNE Archives)
1940 - Pure Food Building, the previous food building at the CNE
1940 – Pure Food Building, the previous food building at the CNE (Library and Archives Canada a060591)
1929 - The Pure Food Building on Exhibition grounds
1929 – The Pure Food Building on Exhibition grounds (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1230, Item 3502)
1954/2021 - Food building at the EX - build in 1954
1954/2021 – Food building at the EX – build in 1954 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5680)
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