Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand – Hosting Legendary Concerts & Events

Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand in Toronto
Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand in Toronto (1978/87 City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 363, Item 12)

Many of us remember the Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand from attending a concert or sporting event, but did you know there have been a total of four grandstands? Also known as the CNE Grandstand, the structures were built on the same site in 1878, 1895, 1907 and 1948.

The First Three Stadiums

While not much is known about the first stadium other than it had about 5,000 seats, the second was destroyed by fire in 1906. The third Exhibition Grandstand was built in 1907 and designed by GW Gouinlock. The 16,400-seat venue hosted extravagant historical shows with casts of hundreds as well as military pageants, car/motorcycle/horse races and more. It featured the Reid-Belmont Restaurant along with Bill Beasley’s Casino. In 1946, the structure was also destroyed by fire. It happened in mere minutes with winds from Lake Ontario fanning the flames.

The Fourth Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand

Completed in time for the 1948 CNE, the 4th Grandstand was built at a cost of about $3.4 million. The semi-bowl stadium was designed by architects Marani & Morris and was the first postwar Modernist building to be constructed at Exhibition Place. The north face of the then 23,500-seat stadium was made of red brick and limestone. It was 244 m or 800 ft long and 23 m or 75 ft high. To protect fans from rain and sun, the structure had a huge cantilever steel-truss roof which was supported by steel columns.

Also inside the Grandstand building was Stoodleigh Tavern & Restaurant. The restaurant had a few other cafeteria locations in the City and had been in business since the early 1900’s. A landmark year for the CNE was 1968 because it was both the first year The Ex was open on Sundays plus, Stoodleigh’s was the only restaurant on the property to be given a liquor licence.

Concerts – from The Jackson 5 & Osmonds to Rush & Pink Floyd

The Jackson 5 on stage at the Grandstand (1971 CNE Archives)

Over the years, the Exhibition Grandstand stage has hosted many Canadian and international entertainment legends including:

  • The Jackson 5 in 1971, when Michael was 13 years old. The family performed again at the stadium for 3 nights in October 1984 to 50,000+ fans each night.
  • The Osmonds in 1971. The family band from Utah, when Donny was also about 13 years of age.
  • April Wine in 1973. The Canadian band known for classic rock and pop ballads were inducted into The Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Sonny & Cher in 1972. The then husband and wife duo also performed a CNE concert in 1973 to 22,000 fans.
  • Sammy Davis Jr in the 1980’s. A talented singer, dancer and all-round entertainer with incredible style and stage presence.

Other performers who have played at the CNE include Rush, Celine Dion, Pink Floyd, Chicago, Neil Young, The Cars, Triumph, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Hope, Burton Cummings and the Guess Who, Bobby Curtola, Helen Reddy, Rick Springfield and Neil Sedaka, to name just a few.

Exhibition Stadium was Home to Sports Teams

1969 - Argos football game, notice The Flyer in the background
1969 – Argos football game, notice The Flyer in the background (CNE Archives)

From 1959 until 1988, the stadium was home to the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Toronto Blue Jays played their first game here in April 1977. On opening day of that first year, over 44,500 fans wrapped in their warmest coats watched the snowy ball game. The Jays last game was played at Exhibition Stadium in 1989. The Toronto Blizzard soccer team also called the stadium home from 1979 to 1983.

The Site Today

2020 - BMO Field at Exhibition Place
2020 – BMO Field at Exhibition Place

Exhibition Stadium was both demolished and imploded in 1999. It was replaced by BMO Field in 2007 at a cost of nearly $63 million to construct. It’s located where the old stadium and Sports Hall of Fame once stood. The Bank of Montreal Financial Group paid $10 million for naming rights. BMO Field at Exhibition Place has a seating capacity of just over 20,000 and is once again home to the Toronto Argonauts as well as Toronto FC and Canada Soccer.

Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand Photos

1978/87 - Overhead view of Exhibition Stadium
1978/87 – Overhead view of Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 363, Item 12)
1980's - Aerial view of Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, looking northwest
1980’s – Aerial view of Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, looking northwest (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 240, Item 36)
1985 - North Marina and Exhibition Stadium
1985 – North Marina and Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 9, ID 163)
1980's - The talented Sammy Davis Jr on stage at The Ex
1980’s – The talented Sammy Davis Jr on stage at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1976 - Exhibition Stadium and surrounding buildings at Exhibition Place
1976 – Exhibition Stadium and surrounding buildings at Exhibition Place (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 138, Item 13)
1975 - Jazz great, Dizzy Gillespie performing at The Ex
1975 – Jazz great, Dizzy Gillespie performing at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1973 - April Wine performing at The Ex
1973 – April Wine performing at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1972 - Sonny & Cher at the Canadian National Exhibition
1972 – Sonny & Cher at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE Archives)
1971 - The Jackson 5 on stage at the Grandstand
1971 – The Jackson 5 on stage at the Grandstand (CNE Archives)
1971 - The Osmonds at Exhibition Stadium
1971 – The Osmonds at Exhibition Stadium (CNE Archives)
1969 - Argos football game, notice The Flyer in the background
1969 – Argos football game, notice The Flyer in the background (CNE Archives)
1960's - The Three Stooges and crowds at the Grandstand
1960’s – The Three Stooges and crowds at the Grandstand (CNE Archives)
1960's - Bobby Curtola performing at The Ex
1960’s – Bobby Curtola performing at The Ex (CNE Archives)
1960's - Track & Field event at Exhibition Stadium
1960’s – Track & Field event at Exhibition Stadium (CNE Archives)
1959 - Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Exhibition Stadium
1959 – Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4989)
1955 - Boy Scouts Parade at Exhibition Place, passing by the north side of the Stadium
1955 – Boy Scouts Parade at Exhibition Place, passing by the north side of the Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2389)
1950 - Miss Toronto beauty contest at Exhibition Stadium
1950 – Miss Toronto beauty contest at Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1655)
1951 - Jimmy Durante and friends at Exhibition Stadium
1951 – Jimmy Durante and friends at Exhibition Stadium (CNE Archives)
1948 - Aerial view of Exhibition Stadium, grounds and surrounding area
1948 – Aerial view of Exhibition Stadium, grounds & surrounding area (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1948 - During construction of the fourth Exhibition Grandstand and Stadium
1948 – During construction of the fourth Exhibition Grandstand and Stadium (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1946 - Fire damage and ruins of the third Exhibition Grandstand
1946 – Fire damage and ruins of the third Exhibition Grandstand (CNE Archives)
Prior to 1946 - Armed Forces parade behind the north side of Exhibition Stadium, looking west
Prior to 1946 – Armed Forces parade behind the north side of Exhibition Stadium, looking west (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1937 - Crowds behind the third Exhibition Grandstand & Stadium
1937 – Crowds behind the third Exhibition Grandstand & Stadium (Library and Archives Canada a057071)
1913 to 1919 - Automobile polo at the third Exhibition Stadium
1913 to 1919 – Automobile polo at the third Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 212)
1911 - Motorcycle race at the third Exhibition Stadium
1911 – Motorcycle race at the third Exhibition Stadium (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 267)
1910 - Crowds lining-up at the third Exhibition Stadium
1910 – Crowds lining-up at the third Exhibition Stadium (Courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
1907 - The third Exhibition Grandstand, designed by GW Gouinlock
1907 – The third Exhibition Grandstand, designed by GW Gouinlock (CNE Archives)
1906 - Fire ruins of the second Exhibition Grandstand
1906 – Fire ruins of the second Exhibition Grandstand (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 12)
2020 - BMO Field at Exhibition Place
2020 – BMO Field at Exhibition Place
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