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 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
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
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 the 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
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
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Oct 19, 1906, page 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Apr 15, 1946, page 8
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 2, 1948, page 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 5, 1959, page 13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 16, 1971, page 35
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Apr 8, 1977, page 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 27, 1989, page A15
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Feb 1, 1999, page A7
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 18, 2007, page S1
- Exhibition Place: Plaques: Exhibition Stadium
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: Toronto Argonauts
- Argo Alumni: Team history
- CBC: The year the CNE first ran on Sundays and served alcohol, too
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & CNE Archives