Monthly Archives: August 2011


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City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1253 – photo taken Aug. 9, 1928

The grandstand in the above picture was constructed in 1901 to replace the original structure built in 1894. The 1901 grandstand was destroyed by fire in 1946. The quote below is from the book “There Never Was a Better Time.” It is the tale of an immigrant family, with seven mischievous sons and a rascal of a grandfather, arriving in Toronto in the 1920s, from an isolated village located on the rocky coast of Newfoundland in the days prior to confederation. Toronto, with its bright lights and array of sinful burlesque houses and vaudeville stages, delighted them and horrified their mother. It is an amusing tale of a family struggling to survive in “the big city,” while enjoying the attractions of the diverse life that Toronto offered.

The first time they visited the CNE is chronicled in the book, but the passage below tells about one of the sons, Jack, taking his girlfriend Mary to the Ex and attending a spectacular show in the grandstand pictured above.

From the book “There Never Was a Better Time”

The Grandstand show of 1922 was called “The Prince of Wales’ Durbar.” It was a royal spectacle of pomp and majesty portraying scenes from exotic India, jewel of the Empire. Mary was surprised when they joined the line, as she was well aware of the price of the tickets—fifty cents each. Jack smiled with a touch of pride. He was pleased to have the funds.

While they waited in line, Mary explained to Jack that a “durbar” was a tradition that had originated among the Mogul emperors of India, and was a ceremonial council or court levee. The events eventually developed into gala festivals presented by ruling princes to entertain royal guests. Lord Lyton had held a durbar in 1877 to proclaim Queen Victoria Empress of India. The Delhi Durbar of 1911 celebrated the ascension of King George V and Queen Mary, and was perhaps the most famous durbar of all time. Jack smiled when Mary completed her lecture. It was then that she realized that she had slipped into her role as a teacher. They both laughed, and Jack politely said, “Thank you, Miss Gillard.”

For the citizens of Toronto, the very word durbar conjured visions of imperial splendour and eastern wealth. Each night, the Grandstand at the CNE attracted huge crowds, and newspaper reviews had hailed the show as the best in over ten years.

Jack and Mary were among the twenty-five thousand spectators who gasped in wonder as the larger-than-life scenes unfolded on the gigantic stage. A cast of fifteen hundred was required to populate the extravaganza. Arcs of colour swept the stage, and flashes of light induced magical moods that seized the imagination of the audience, stimulating heights of emotion that most of the audience had rarely experienced. Regiments of soldiers strutted and paraded with exacting precision across the gigantic stage. Richly attired eastern potentates perched regally on the swaying backs of majestic elephants. Even the supposedly intimate scenes were massive in scope when compared to those on normal-sized stages.

The grand finale almost catapulted Jack from his seat. “The Charge of the Dragoons” was a musical ride featuring soldiers displaying scarlet-red tunics trimmed with silver and gold. They galloped their noble steeds in a dramatic cavalry charge, their glistening swords brandished high in the air. Lances fluttered with pennants, adding to the epic battle scene. The martial music engulfed the stadium to create a spine-tingling experience that caused the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck to stand on end.

At the climax of the cavalry charge, the deep-throated shouts of the mounted warriors drowned out the music of the orchestra as the men raised their voices in a unified cry of victory. Cannons exploded, rifle shots cracked in the night air, and the clash of steel on steel echoed across the stadium, conjuring a panorama of militaristic pomp and knightly battle. The audience knew that it was witnessing the very essence of the conquest of the Empire.

When the din of conflict had ended, silence reigned for a long moment. It was as if the viewers were in shock. When the spell was broken, waves of thunderous applause reverberated across the stadium, the acclamation lasting two or three minutes. People jumped to their feet and cheered enthusiastically. When all was again quiet, the orchestra struck the opening notes of “God Save the King.” Everyone remained standing and, with throats tight with emotion, sang the great anthem. Some people in the crowd were familiar with a particularly meaningful line in one verse of the song, words that the composer had penned especially for Canada: “Our loved Dominion bless, with peace and happiness, from shore to shore.”

Within seconds of the final note, fireworks exploded across the pitch-black sky, illuminating the entire grandstand. The faces of the crowd were as visible as if it were daytime. People rushed out of the other exhibition buildings as they heard the bursts echo like crackling thunder across the wide expanse of the CNE grounds. The splashes of light reflected from the turrets and domes of the ornate buildings, making them appear as if they were the spires of magnificent palaces of faraway India. The celestial display electrified the crowd, creating a magical illusion that no one there ever forgot. For Jack and Mary, the memory of a lifetime had been enshrined within their souls.

A link to the novel “There Never Was A Better Time

A link to other posts about Toronto and its history,

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Toronto



The pictures below are from a postcard folder that was mailed in 1948, so the photographs were likely taken in 1947. It is also possible that they were taken prior to the Ex closing for the war years in 1942.


         Cover of the folder of postcards that was mailed in 1948.


The Food Products Building, constructed in 1921 and demolished in 1954.


The Art and Crafts Building constructed in 1912. Today it contains Medieval Times


                         The Electrical Building (now demolished)


Princess Boulevard, looking east toward the Princes’ Gates, with the Automotive Building (built 1929) on the right


The Horticultural Building, constructed in 1907 to replace the Crystal Palace that was destroyed by fire in 1906.


The Coliseum, completed in 1922. At the time, it was the largest structure of its kind in North America.


                                                           A section of the midway


The Princes’ Gates, opened in 1927 by HRH Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (King Edward VIII)

A link to more postcard photos of the 1947 CNE –

Links to novels about Toronto that include stories about the CNE during the 1920s and the 1940s –

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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Toronto



Although few of us can remember the opening of the CNE following the Second World War, the pictures below might being back a few memories for those who can recall the Ex during its golden days, when it was the greatest event of late-summer in Toronto. The postcard views are from folder of postcards that were mailed in 1948, so were likely taken the previous year, 1947. It is also possible that they were taken prior to 1941, before the Ex closed to be used as a training camp for troops who were being sent overseas.


Cover of the folder of postcards mailed in 1948. In that year, postal codes were unnecessary.


Province of Ontario Building, built in 1926 (now the Liberty  Grand )


       Open space in the interior of the Ontario Government Building


                    The Bandshell, built in 1936 at a cost of $47,000.


The Gooderham Fountain, built in 1911, a replica of one of the fountains in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. It was demolished in 1958 and replaced with the Princess Margaret Fountain.


The Dufferin Gates, built in 1910, and demolished in 1959.


The Manufacturers’ Building that burned in 1961. The Better Living Centre now occupies the site.

A link to novels about Toronto that include stories about the CNE –

A link to a novel about Toronto during the 1920s, which includes information about the CNE during that decade –

A link to a book about a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s, which tells about his first visit to the CNE in 1947 –

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Toronto




My memories of the CNE began in 1947, when my dad took my brother and me to the fair. It was the first year that it was opened after the Second World War. It was amazing world of colour and action, and perhaps most of all, a world of food. In the year following the war, few families possessed the resources to eat in restaurants. An order of take-out fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper, was our only experience with foods prepared beyond our family’s kitchen. The Pure Food Building contained an array of delicious treats and free samples that to my brother and me was a gastronomic delight beyond our wildest dreams.


The Pure Food Building, built in 1921. It was demolished in 1954 and replaced with the present-day Food Products Building.


                           City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1118, Series 377, Item 6045

The Dufferin gates, built in 1910, freshly painted and cleaned for the opening of the 1947 CNE. They were demolished in 1959 to allow for the construction of the Gardiner Expressway.

Stories about the 1947 CNE are contained in the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a book about a boy coming of age in Toronto in the years following the Second World War. The link below allows access to information about the book.

For other novels about Toronto:



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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Toronto




It was a great privilege to attend the funeral of Jack Leyton. Several of the thought that were expressed remained with me as they rang true.

‘If the Olympics can make us proud Canadians, perhaps Jack’s life can make us better Canadians.”

Jack’s letter to Canadians was a manifesto for social democracy. (Stephen Lewis)

One word summed up Jack’s ideals – generosity.




Post about the reaction in Nathan Phillips Square in the days preceding his funeral

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Toronto




Under sullen skies, people gather on Friday August 26th to pay respects and say farewell to Jack Leyton. The colour orange, the traditional colour of the NDP, was either worn or displayed by those who wished to remember the ideals and principles that Jack brought to Canada’s political scene. When a person passes away, people often offer kind remarks, sometimes simply because it is the right thing to do. However, I knew Jack Leyton and had observed him during both private and public moments, and was aware that he was the real McCoy.

Jack was always gracious and a true gentleman. He brought civility to the political scene in Ottawa, fought for “the little guy,” and sought to dispel nastiness and narrow minded actions that divide Canadians into groups for partisan advantage. Jack tried to do the right thing for everyone, not just those who  agreed with him politically. It is sad to watch politicians now shed crocodile tears and try to gain advantage by riding on the coattails of Jack.

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                                     The colour orange worn for Jack.

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             A young woman sketches the CN Tower, and colours it orange.


A mounted policeman stands guard as people enter the City Hall to pay respect.


                            Entering Toronto’s City Hall

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The lines stretched from City Hall Square, down the west side of the building, and across the back as far as Bay Street. This was at 10:15 Friday morning.

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Olivia Chow thanks people who are in line for their kindness and support.


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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Toronto



My visit to the CNE this year was enjoyable, though I was aware that it has changed greatly since the days of my youth. In previous years ,I entered the CNE grounds from the Eastern Gate, travelling on the Bathurst streetcar. This year I entered via the Princes’ Gates as I wanted to photograph the magnificent structures. It is no longer possible to enter the grounds via the Dufferin Gate, as that area is fenced off and is no longer part of the CNE grounds.

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                                       THE Princes’ Gates

Designed by the architectural firm of Chapman and Oxley, they were opened by Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1927.

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                                                The Automotive Building

Inside the grounds, on my left was the Automotive building. Designed by the architect Douglas Kertland in 1929, for years it showcased new cars and trucks. The building is now the Allstream Centre, and is employed for other purposes. Its design is a blend of modern and classical styles, and its detailing is superb.

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                                            The Direct Energy Centre

To the right as I strolled westward, was the Direct Energy Centre, previously the National Trade Centre. Other than BMO Stadium, it is the newest building at the CNE. It contains a million square feet of display area, and is the largest convention centre in Canada. It is a stunningly beautiful building.

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                              Displays in the Direct Energy Centre.

Even thought the stalls inside the Direct Energy Centre are from different countries, I think it is a glorified flea market. However, I admit that is is popular with shoppers.

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        Many of the colourful food stands have been the CNE for years.

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                                                                       Midway Rides

Though it was only 11 am, the midway was already springing to life. Teenagers and youngers were having as much fun as ever, thoroughly enjoying the last days of summer before the rigors of the new school year descend.

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                                            The Food Products Building

The Food Building, constructed in 1954 to replace the previous building from 1921, is as wondrously tacky and gut-wrenchingly gastronomic as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed consuming foods that the rest of the year I avoid for health reasons. After all, I was at the Ex.

Next post will continue to tour the 2011 CNE.

Novels that include stories of yesteryear at the CNE – – and


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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Toronto