Crystal Palace was once located where the Horticulture Building stands today on Saskatchewan Rd (between Dufferin St and Princes’ Blvd) at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
Provincial Agricultural Exhibition
The forerunner to the Canadian National Exhibition was the Provincial Agricultural Exhibition of Upper Canada. The first was held in 1846 on the grounds of the Government House, once located at King St W and Simcoe St. In its early years, the Fair travelled in rotation to other Ontario cities, including Hamilton, Kingston, London, Niagara and Ottawa, never intending to be permanently in Toronto.
The Palace of Industry
The City of Toronto granted 30 acres of Garrison Reserve land for Exhibition grounds and a public park near King St W, west of Strachan Ave. A design competition was held to create a permanent exhibition building for the upcoming 1858 Exhibition and future events. The winning entry was that of Sir Collingwood Schreiber and Sir Sandford Fleming, based on the Cyrstal Palace in London but on a smaller scale.
Toronto’s first Crystal Palace, officially known as the Palace of Industry, was built north of King St W, west of Shaw St. The two-storey cruciform-shaped building was 78 m or 256 ft long, 29 m or 96 ft wide, and 17 m or 55 ft tall. It took just 90 days to construct. Its walls were made of cast iron and opaque glass that extended into the roof and semi-circular window in the transept. The remainder of the roof was wood covered in tin, making the building glisten in the sunlight. The building was supported on cast iron columns and girders. It had four entrances.
There were 47,000 sq ft of space between the main floor and the gallery. The building was said to hold up to 8,000 people.
Even though the structure was named the Palace of Industry, it was more so agriculture that was exhibited inside. Outside the building were pens for cattle, sheep and poultry.
Toronto’s turn to host the annual Provincial Agricultural Fair came around every four years. In 1878, exhibition officials told the city a new building would be needed if the Fair was to be held in Toronto. Not only was the Palace of Industry too small, but there were lighting issues, and due to poor ventilation, the floor had rotted. Outside of this, the remainder of the building was fine.
The Crystal Palace
To entice the Provincial Agricultural Fair organizers, and in hopes that Toronto would be selected to host the Exhibition permanently, City Councillors chose a 52-acre site just west of the New Fort (later known as Stanley Barracks) as the new fairground. It was close to the streetcar line, Lake Ontario, rail and accommodations.
The Palace of Industry was dismantled, its pieces were marked and numbered, and it was moved from King St W to the new site. The second version of Toronto’s Crystal Palace was reconstructed using much of the ironwork and salvageable material from the original building. It was enlarged, and a third storey was added. To create new sections, the original pieces were copied. The building had semi-circular windows, a slate roof, over 100 patented ventilators for air circulation, raised skylights and was topped with a large cupola easily seen from Toronto harbour. The height of the Crystal Palace was 56 m or 185 ft to the top of its flagpole.
The primary exhibit building was the Crystal Palace, and it was the pride of the Exhibition. The building had a main floor and two tiers of galleries that could be reached by eight oak staircases. At the level of the second gallery was a bandstand. Below it, in a pavilion-style area, was an artificial rockwork foundation with cast iron fountains and drinking fountains. The building also featured an Art Gallery.
Along with the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace, architects Stewart & Strictland also designed several wooden display buildings at Exhibition grounds, including the first Administration Building, the Dairy Building, the first Horticulture Building and Machinery Hall.
When the Provincial Agricultural Fair decided to continue to rotate the Exhibition to other cities, City Council established the Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto. The first Toronto Industrial Exhibition, today’s CNE, was held on September 5, 1879.
A Fire & The Site Today
On Thanksgiving night in 1906, a blaze started in the Grandstand. Embers carried by strong winds quickly spread the fire to other buildings, including the Crystal Palace, which had become known as the Transportation Building. The jewel of the Exhibition was destroyed.