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.
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.
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.
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. When Conklin Shows (the provider of the Midway rides and games) came into Toronto for the 1940 CNE, 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 then 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 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 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 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 1920s; however, the savoury fair staple did not become wildly popular until the 1940s. At the 2016 CNE, one of the year’s most popular new foods was the re-imagined pickle corn dog!
The Food Building
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 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.
Wild 2022 CNE Food
If you relish trying something different at the 2022 CNE, there’s 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, or how about some mac and cheese pizza and lemonade?!
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, 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 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).
- 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
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 15, 1921, page 9
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 22, 1922, page 13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 12, 1953, page 23
- CNE Heritage
- The Ex
- CityNews: Mac and cheese lemonade, deep-fried…
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & CNE Heritage