I am well aware that at the CNE, many attractions have departed the scene. The midway and the endless variety of food now seem to be the main attractions. However, I am also aware that young people today enjoy it as much as ever. The “stripped-down” version attracts over a million visitors in two weeks, which means it remains highly popular. However, it has the potential to be great.
I would like to offer a few suggestions that might possibly restore the CNE to the days when it was the city’s greatest event of late summer, when it was billed as the “Largest Annual Exhibition in the World,” and in our minds, the greatest.
The pictures below were taken in 1956, when the Ex was at the heights of its popularity.
The old Dufferin Gates (demolished) The Gooderham Fountain and Manufacturers’ Building (both now demolished)
The display portraying Paul Bunyon and his ox “Babe” in the Ontario Government Building
The two pictures below are from the 1970s
The Gondola ride and Food Building – The Shell Tower, rollercoaster in the background
Apart from the ten suggestions, there are four things that might be considered for restoration at the Ex
I. The Gondola ride that allowed visitors to cross over the grounds was a great experience and offered an impressive view. Because it passed overhead, it dominated the air space above the Ex, creating the atmosphere of a fairground. Bring it back! The Sky Ride is a poor substitute.
2. Build some sort of tower to give people a bird’s-eye view of the grounds. Any type of modern tower would suffice, although reconstructing a tower to resemble the now demolished Shell Tower would link the Ex with its past.
3. People love the midway, but a rollercoaster is needed. Trying to compete with Canada’s Wonderland for the biggest and fastest, is not possible. The Ex should aim for a different ride, making it unusual. Perhaps part of the rollercoaster might be covered – a tunnel effect – or have it swoop out over the lake. Imagination is required to create a unique experience. “Unique” is the key word, not “biggest” or “fastest.”
4. Restore the fireworks display. It should be shortly after sunset, not at ten thirty as was traditional. The days are gone when the fireworks could be seen from afar, as many high-rise towers have been built surrounding the Ex. The fireworks should be designed for maximum effect when viewed from within the grounds.
Premise for the 10 Suggestions Listed Below
Toronto is the cultural centre of Canada, and the third largest theatre city in the English-speaking world. It is also one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. However, little of this is reflected in the CNE of today. It began as an industrial and agricultural fair, but these roots have long since disappeared. It seems to be in no man’s land. It might be better received it if were a “cultural exposition,” showcasing Toronto’s ethnicity and cultural attractions. It would then become similar to Luminato or Nuit Blanche, and attract visitors worldwide.
The ideas below require funding, and in today’s tough economic times, this is difficult. However, when money is “spent” on culture, it is an “investment.” Money properly spent on culture, returns three-times the revenue to the tax-payers.
Ten Suggestions to Improve the CNE
1. The BMO Stadium was built in the wrong place. It should have been located on the site where the grandstand once stood. However, as it is where it is, it should be put to use when the Ex is open. It now sits in the centre of the grounds and is empty. Some sort of show should be presented in this space, perhaps closing off one end and constructing a temporary stage. Enlist the expertise of Aubrey Dan, Darth Drabinsky or David Mirvish. One of them might be interested in produving a show or a revue incorporating scenes from the shows that were in their theatres in the past or those that are presently playing. Great publicity for them. These men are highly creative. Give then room to produce something exciting. Involve the Toronto Symphony and have them perform a couple of concerts. The Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet should also be involved. As well, a big-name performer and various bands that appeals to the younger demographics should be included. The important thing is to reincorporate the BMO Stadium back into the Ex.
2. The Horticultural Building is no longer open to the public during the run of the CNE. Whoever is renting it, negotiate with them to allow it to be returned to the CNE for two weeks in August. Give the space over to the Toronto Botanical Gardens or Canada Blooms to produce floral displays. It would be great advertising for these institutions and restore a beautiful building to its proper use. Many Torontonians do not even know where the Botanical Gardens are located.
3. The Arts and Crafts Building is no longer a part of the CNE as it is rented to the company operating Mediaeval Times. Incorporate the building back into the Ex. Mediaeval Times could offer their show at a special Exhibition price. The building is so large that the Royal Ontario Museum could place a display with real armour and real mediaeval weapons in the building. Get the ROM involved, it might make the Mediaeval Times less commercial and more authentic. The ROM has a vast collection that the public never sees.
4. The old Transportation Building is now employed for various purposes, including fashion shows. Wrong place. Give the building over to the Art Gallery of Ontario or the McMichael Art Collection. Both institutions have art in storage that has not been exhibited in years. Allow them to choose paintings by famous artists, and publicize then in advance so that they are familiar to the public. It would be great publicity for these galleries. Or, invite other galleries to participate – the Art Gallery of Hamilton, The National Gallery, the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo. The possibilities are endless. But first, showcase the galleries of Toronto. Involve the galleries of Queen Street West that display contemporary art. Have a temporary graffiti wall. Allow local artists to display their art on the walls surrounding the building.
5. Food is a big attraction at the Ex, so increase its importance. The old Ontario Government Building is also no longer a part of the Ex as it is rented to Liberty Grand. For two weeks of the year, open it to some of Toronto’s finest restaurant and allow them to create unique spaces. Include singers and shows. Get Toronto’s comedy clubs involved. If a person dines at the restaurants in the evening, refund their admission price to the grounds. Encourage people to dine at one restaurant for an appetizer, another for the main course, and a third for dessert. Involve the Ontario wineries. It would be great publicity for the restaurants and wineries alike. It would allow the Liberty Grand to advertise their services and facilities. It must be classy, not a glorified food court.
6. The Food Building is great and very popular. However, much of the space is empty. To supplement the fast-food stands, entice food companies to return to the Ex. Companies advertising juices, soda pop, soups, biscuits, pizza, ice cream, power drinks, frozen foods, etc. create a different experience to fast-food stands. As in previous decades, the companies could offer deals, discount prices, or free samples. It’s great publicity for them. Grocery chains might also be interested. The space around the outside of the Food Building should be open-air cafes or dining patios where people can enjoy their food. And for heavens sake, get a alcohol licence for some the outdoor cafes.
7. Built a circular streetcar line through the Ex and have several open-sided streetcars (c. 1900) operating on them. An authentic one can be seen at the Halton Railway Museum. Allow these old fashioned Toronto streetcars to amble through the grounds similar to the motorized trains in the grounds today. The old streetcars would add atmosphere and allow people to get around the grounds. If the streetcars move slowly, they need not be on their own right-of-way.
8. Bring back the auto show. Perhaps car dealerships should be invited. People still enjoy looking at new cars. An alternative would be an antique auto show. These are held each year in various cities across North America. Invite one to coincide with the dates of the Ex.
9. New technological advancements were once high-lighted at the Ex. We live in an age of ever-changing technology, yet it is missing from the Ex. Get these companies back into the fair grounds. Young people love the latest communication gadgets, and older people need to see them, understand them, and perhaps give them a try. The latest entertainment centres, TVs, and computers need to be on display.
10. Reopen the Coliseum and the Horse Palace. Could the RCMP Musical Ride or some other riding group be invited? For the display spaces in the Coliseum, involve our many multi-ethnic communities? The ideas of the “Caravan” of 1970s Toronto might be a possibility, although today they might be considered passé. Consult the ethnic groups and see what they would suggest to showcase their cultures. There are many foreign consulates in Toronto. Involve them. Foreign films should be included. And by the way, TIFF should be invited to show films in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to advertise their film festival. Summer Works Theatre Festival or the Fringe might perform one of their most popular plays from the summer season.
Explore more ideas about the Ex on these links:
Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Theatres Included in the Book:
Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto
Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)
Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons
Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown
Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s
Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede
Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression
Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro
Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years
University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema
Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres
Savoy (Coronet), Westwood
Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes
Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)