The Zip Line at the 2014 CNE, in the background the Food Building and the BMO Stadium.
Attending the CNE is an end-of-summer ritual for many Torontonians. Some consider summer incomplete without at least one trip to the Ex. Although the CNE may have diminished in size and lost some of its lustre through the passing years, it will still attract over a million visitors in its 19-day run in 2014. It remains the largest annual fair in Canada. When it closes after Labour Day, similar to New Year’s Eve, we become aware that another milestone in time has passed.
Those of us who are older remember when the Ex introduced Canadians the latest technological advancements, featured the most up-to-date household appliances, and showcased the next year’s automobile models. Its grandstand shows attracted the biggest names in show business and the bandshell offered performances by brass bands from Britain and military bands from the United States. The horse show was also a highlight, as were the cattle and hog judging. In the Warriors’ Day Parades, thousands of veterans marched, their medals reflecting the late-summer sun.
The free samples in the Pure Food Building were welcomed treats. I particularly recall the small cups of various flavours of Campbell’s Soup, V-8 juice and different brands of breakfast cereals. However, they were never sufficient to make a meal, as many have claimed. I also remember buying a bag of chocolate bars, all for the price of one dollar. As great as the Ex was in those year, like last year New Year’s Eves, it has disappeared into time. However, I now realize that the greatest thing about the Ex in decades past was the fact that I was young. In our youth, everything was better and bigger, even if in reality it was not.
I sometimes feel that the Ex began its decline after the Manufacturers Building was gutted by fire and never replaced. During the next few years, the Flyer (rollercoaster) and the CNE Grandstand also vanished. Today, the Horticultural, Arts and Crafts, and Ontario Government Buildings are no longer part of the annual Exhibition. However, I was pleased to discover that this year (2014) people were again able to access the grounds via the Dufferin Gates. When returning on the streetcar from my trip to the Ex this year, I heard a woman declare on her cellphone to someone, “The Ex is mainly one big effort to sell you something.” There is much truth to this statement, but there is another side to the Ex that remains as glorious as former decades.
It remains a place where children and young people create memories that in the the years ahead they will refer to as “the good old days.” They have no recollections of the way the Ex used to be, so accept it for what it is and revel in the experience. In future years, they too will exaggerate the virtues of the Ex of 2014. In some respects, they will be correct. The assortment of rides is even better than in former years, even though there is no rollercoaster. This year there is the “Zip Line,” where a person signs a liability waver, pays $20, and zips from one end of the Ex to the other on a high-wire like a circus performer. As well, the gut-wrenching foods are as gut-wrenching as ever and the Tiny Tim Donuts as plentiful as they were in years past. I also noticed at the 2014 Ex the large number of immigrants experiencing the fair for the first time, seeing it through new eyes. I envied their sense of amazement and delight.
The CNE grounds are immaculately maintained and the landscaping is excellent. The flower beds and planters are a sight to behold, and the plantings around the Princess Margaret Fountain are wonderful, even though I admit that I miss the old Gooderham Fountain that was demolished in 1958. Walking the grounds is relaxing and pleasurable. The butter sculptures in the Better Living Centre are as fascinating as ever, even though they no longer portray Borden’s Elsie the cow. The sand sculptures are also skilfully executed, though I must confess that I have no interest in the stalls in the Direct Energy Centre Centre that sell crafts and products from all over the world, most of which are available in the shops in the Kensington Market or on Spadina Avenue.
The Ex has changed. It is no longer the exhibition that I knew in my youth. I accept this, but still derive great pleasure visiting it each year, when I relive past memories and create new ones. In the latter respect, I am no different to the young who flock to the CNE each year. When I stroll the midway, I am again a teenager, even though I am an observer rather than a participant. Sadly, this now applies to more things in life than I care to mention.
The planter boxes at the Ex, to the west of the Food Building, the view gazing west towards the old Music Building.
The Food Building built in 1954 to replace of former building of 1921.
The former Music Building, originally the Railway Building, designed by George W. Gouinlock in 1907.
The Zip Line, a new addition to the 2014 CNE. For $20 a person can ride on a high wire from the west end of the Ex to the east end, almost to the Princes’ Gates
The Princess Margaret Fountain, opened in 1958, replacing the old Gooderham Fountain of 1911.
The Press Building, originally the Administrative Building, constructed in 1905.
A gigantic elm tree, a survivor from the old days of the Ex, and two Muskoka chairs where a person can relax in the shade.
The children’s merry-go-round in the Kiddie Rides
The butter sculptures in the Better Living Centre
The CNE Midway in 2014. This scene might be from the 1950s or 1960s, as little has changed.
The sand sculptures in the Direct Energy Centre
View of the Midway looking west, the Sky Ride in the background.
To view Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/
For links to previous posts about the CNE throughout the years
The Princes’ Gates at the CNE
The CNE when “The Flyer” (rollercoaster) was king of the midway.
Going wild at the 2013 CNE.
Memories of the CNE of yesteryears.
The old Gooderham fountain at the CNE, which preceded the Princess Margaret Fountain, was a copy of those in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square
Ten suggestions to improve the CNE
Attending the 2011 Ex.
Memories and photos of the Grandstand shows of the 1950s
Postcard views of the CNE from the 1940s
More postcard views of the CNE from the 1940s
The historic fountain at the CNE that has now disappeared
A post about the sculpture in butter of Rob Ford
Visiting the 2012 CNE
To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/
To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings
To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new
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: