The Horse Palace is located at 15 Nova Scotia Ave (and Manitoba Dr, adjacent to the west side of the Coliseum Complex) at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
Planning for the Horse Palace
While the Horse Palace had been envisioned since the Royal Winter Fair’s establishment in 1921, plans for the building started moving forward in the late 1920s. The old wooden stables and brick Livestock Building that had been constructed decades prior (on the site of the Horse Palace) were due for an update. Exhibitors were concerned about their valuable horses being housed in the old structures, plus visitors were not getting a good opportunity to see the animals.
So to improve the quality of horse accommodations at Exhibition grounds and to support the equestrian events at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the Dominion of Canada entered into a joint agreement to provide equal funding for the $1 million project. Committee members visited some of the finest American horse show buildings to get ideas of the latest developments. In early 1931, during the Great Depression, the previous structures were demolished, and construction began on the Horse Palace.
It took just 20 weeks to build the magnificent Art Deco-style equestrian facility. It was designed by City of Toronto architect John James Woolnough. The two-storey building is clad with buff brick and Queenston limestone. Its plain horizontal form features many decorative elements, with horses symbolized throughout. Exterior architectural highlights include beautifully detailed south and west entrances with low-relief sculptured friezes, red doors with bold geometric shapes, coloured glass, orate window spandrels and a copper-domed tower over the west entrance.
There were 2 million bricks, 29,000 cubic feet of cut stone and 1,700 tons of structural steel used in its construction.
The Horse Palace has over 8 acres of space across the two floors. The building initially accommodated 1,200 horses with approximately 700 box stalls and 500 open/standing stalls with metal details. There are long and wide horse ramps that feature a gentle grade, a central exercise ring measuring 55 m by 18 m or 180 ft by 60 ft, interior skylights, veterinarians’ quarters, showers, and washrooms. It also had a blacksmith shop.
For the opening ceremonies during the 1931 CNE, Mayor William James Stewart led a 998 kg or 2,200 lb Clydesdale named Mac into the great new building and unveiled a bronze plaque in the rotunda. The Horse Palace was billed as one of the finest equestrian facilities in the country.
Along with the Coliseum and the East and West Annexes (built in 1921/22) and the Cattle, Sheep, Swine and Judging Pavilions (built in 1927), the Horse Palace completed the group of livestock exhibition buildings.
Canadian Army Barracks
Beginning in 1939 and throughout the Second World War, Exhibition Place grounds were used by the Canadian Armed Forces. Known as Exhibition Camp, the vast buildings were home to various military departments. The Horse Palace stalls became the Canadian Army’s sleeping quarters, which included the 48th Highlanders and the Toronto Scottish battalions. A few of the soldiers that bunked at the Horse Palace during the war carved their names and assigned numbers/Regimental numbers into the brick in the second-floor stairwell on the west side.
The building reverted to horse stables for the 1946 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
Toronto Police Service Mounted Unit
Since 1931, the Toronto Police have stationed a Mounted Unit in the Horse Palace during the CNE and The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. They would eventually take up year-round residency in the landmark building, plus there were other Mounted Units in stables throughout the city.
In the late 1990s, the decision was made to consolidate the specialized unit into one facility, the Horse Palace. So in 2000, after improvements, which included restoring 25 stalls and replacing 25 more to accommodate 50 horses, the equestrian facility became the headquarters for the TPS Mounted Unit. The officers and their exceptional horses are responsible for patrolling the downtown area and crowd management.
The Horse Palace Today
The building continues its traditional role during the annual Canadian National Exhibition and The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. The Horse Palace is also home to the Toronto Equestrian Downtown riding school, which offers riding lessons, introductory programs and more.
The Horse Palace has had its share of ghostly sights and sounds. Officers and riding school employees have reported hearing footsteps and horses moving above them on the mezzanine level, but that floor is usually vacant of people and animals.
A riding school staff member would bring their dog and play fetch. They would toss a red ball up the ramp to the second floor in the northeast corner of the Horse Palace. One time, the dog returned with no ball. A few moments later, the ball came bouncing down the ramp when no one was up there.
In another occurrence, while a custodian was mucking out a stall one night during The Royal Canadian Winter Fair, they saw a uniformed police officer and his horse walking down the corridor. The custodian greeted the officer when they passed and continued to work, but when they turned to look again, the officer and horse had vanished. Click for more about the ghosts of Exhibition Place.
Did You Know?
The Horse Palace is considered one of Toronto’s finest Art Deco buildings.
When the Horse Palace opened for the 1931 CNE, not all stalls were filled that first year. After a particularly rainy evening, visitors to the CNE brought their picnic suppers into the building. They sat on bales of straw, happily eating and taking in the magnificent new stables.
During the Second World War, wedding ceremonies also took place in the Horse Palace. Then utilized as Canadian Army barracks, some soldiers married their sweethearts before heading overseas.
The Horse Palace received heritage status from the city in 1979 and from Ontario Heritage Trust in 1988.
Since 2006, the roof of the Horse Palace has been a Photovoltaic (PV) Generation Plant. The rooftop solar panels convert thermal energy into 200,000 kW of pollution-free electricity annually. The landmark building has also been retrofitted with a cool roof which reflects the sun’s energy.
A canopy between the Horse Palace and the West Annex of the Coliseum makes for a covered laneway at ground level, plus there’s a pedestrian walkway connecting the two buildings at the second-floor level.