Decades (1870s to 1990s): A Visual History of the Canadian National Exhibition

August 21, 2017 | Eric

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The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Canada's largest fair, opened this past weekend. Originally known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, its name was changed to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912. At that time, the hope was to better reflect the scope of this always diverse fair.

Since its inception, the CNE has featured exhibits on technological advances in industry and agriculture. Some of these included electric railway transportation in 1883, Edison's phonograph in 1888, the wireless telephone in the 1890s, radio in 1922, television in 1939 and plastics in the 1940s.

For your enjoyment, we've put together a selection of digitized materials from our Special Collections, highlighting the CNE over the decades, starting in the 1870s and going all the way up to the 1990s. 

Make sure you get to the CNE before it closes on September 4!

1870s:

 
Committee of the Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto, 1879
Committee of the Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto, 1879
York Pioneers, on way to Exhibition to erect Scadding cabin
York Pioneers, on way to Exhibition to erect Scadding cabin, 1879

 
 

1880s:

Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto: attendant's ticket
Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto: attendant's ticket, 1886
Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds, engraving
Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds, engraving, 1885
Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace (1879-1906), 1880


Horticultural Hall
Horticultural Hall, 1880

1900s:

Midway
Midway, 1904
Midway
Midway, 1900
Grandstand
Grandstand, 1910
Collins Wireless Telephone Exhibit
Collins Wireless Telephone Exhibit, 1909

1910s:

Livestock Pens, 1913
Livestock Pens, 1913
Machinery Hall, 1916
Machinery Hall, 1916
Transportation Building, Interior, 1913
Transportation Building, Interior, 1913
Columbia Records Exhibit, 191?
Columbia Records Exhibit, 191?

1920s:

Lost Children Tent, 1923
Lost Children Tent, 1923
Dufferin Street Gate, 1920
Dufferin Street Gate, 1920
Fireworks Show, 1923
Fireworks Show, 1923
New Fort, Exhibition Grounds, 1922
New Fort, Exhibition Grounds, 1922


1930s:

This sign, of the new glowing type, invites all and sundry to the 1938 Canadian National Exhibition, 1937
This sign, of the new glowing type, invites all and sundry to the 1938 Canadian National Exhibition, 1937
Marathon Swim Canadian National Exhibition, 1930
Marathon Swim Canadian National Exhibition, 1930
Dufferin Street Gate, 1932
Dufferin Street Gate, 1932
All in at once for the big C.N.E. Swim, Splash. 80 men plunge for the 10-mile marathon swim. 1937
All in at once for the big C.N.E. Swim, Splash. 80 men plunge for the 10-mile marathon swim. 1937

1940s:

We are confident that these clouds shall pass
"We are confident that these clouds shall pass". In his speech at the opening ceremony of the Canadian National Exhibition today, the Duke of Kent brought a message of hope and cheer from the people of embattled Britain. 1941.
Zooming in formation over the C.N.E., the famed R.A.F. Dambuster squadron which blasted vital German Mohne and Eder dams, thrilled Canadians Tuesday
Zooming in formation over the C.N.E., the famed R.A.F. Dambuster squadron which blasted vital German Mohne and Eder dams, thrilled Canadians Tuesday. The big Lancasters will be back at the Exhibition Thursday in another spectacular flight. 1947.
Daredevils Aerialists, Betty and Benny Fox, brother and sister, are a breath-taking feature at the C.N.E.
Daredevils Aerialists, Betty and Benny Fox, brother and sister, are a breath-taking feature at the C.N.E. They are seen reading an edition of The Star on their 18-inch-wide platform. Highest paid air artists, they get $375 daily. 1947.
C.N.E. Crowds see first showing of Britain at war
C.N.E. Crowds see first showing of Britain at war. Nearly an hour before the doors of The Star's theatre on the balcony of the Automotive building opened for the premiere showing of the film Britain at War a great audience had gathered. 1941.

 


1950s:

Aerial view of the Canadian National Exhibition, 1950
Aerial view of the Canadian National Exhibition, 1950
Band Shell, 1952
Band Shell, 1952
Automotive Building, Interior, 1954
Automotive Building, Interior, 1954
Dufferin Street Gate, looking north, 1953
Dufferin Street Gate, looking north, 1953

 


1960s:

Map of Canadian National Exhibition grounds shows new exhibition hall proposed by George C. Hendrie, named president today at a CNE Association meeting which press attended for the first time. 1968
Map of Canadian National Exhibition grounds shows new exhibition hall proposed by George C. Hendrie, named president today at a CNE Association meeting which press attended for the first time. 1968.
Cable car system, 1967
Cable car system, 1967
One on the house is received by Zippy the chimpanzee from Joe Pinsk at Dinty Moore's snack bar in the CNE's Coliseum where the Canadian National Sportsmen's Show opens today
One on the house is received by Zippy the chimpanzee from Joe Pinsk at Dinty Moore's snack bar in the CNE's Coliseum where the Canadian National Sportsmen's Show opens today. Zippy and trainer Ralph Quinlan are one of its featured acts. 1965.
The bustle and activity of the Canadian National Exhibition is never more noticeable or colorful than at night as this picture at the Midway last night indicates
The bustle and activity of the Canadian National Exhibition is never more noticeable or colorful than at night as this picture at the Midway last night indicates. Attendance was up by 19,000 over the opening day of 1964. 1965.

1970s:

Taking a spin on one of the many rides at the CNE are three of the thousands of children visiting the Ex today on Children's Day
Taking a spin on one of the many rides at the CNE are three of the thousands of children visiting the Ex today on Children's Day. They are treated to free admission and reduced prices on the midway. 1973.
This cable car, where pleasure-seekers at the CNE can get a bird's-eye view of all the fun of Canada's largest exhibition became a prison last night when 39 visitors were trapped for several hours after a jammed cable stalled 15 cars and left them swaying 100 feet up. 1973
This cable car, where pleasure-seekers at the CNE can get a bird's-eye view of all the fun of Canada's largest exhibition became a prison last night when 39 visitors were trapped for several hours after a jammed cable stalled 15 cars and left them swaying 100 feet up. 1973.
This dopey but cheerful-looking creature, getting a final check-up from 17-year-old Joe Corbone, is part of a new ride at this year's Canadian National Exhibition, which opens tomorrow
This dopey but cheerful-looking creature, getting a final check-up from 17-year-old Joe Corbone, is part of a new ride at this year's Canadian National Exhibition, which opens tomorrow. The train, with grinning buck-toothed caterpillars for carriages, will worm its way over a rolling track and through a huge apple. 1976.
After visiting the Ex every year since 1913, CNE fan Elizabeth Perkins, 86, tried a candy floss for the first time this year and didn't like it
After visiting the Ex every year since 1913, CNE fan Elizabeth Perkins, 86, tried a candy floss for the first time this year and didn't like it. She says nothing could keep her away from Ex, and she can walk miles without tiring. 1976.

 1980s:

Dismantling Bulova Tower, 1985
Dismantling Bulova Tower, 1985
Big Foot makes his mark
Big Foot makes his mark: The Monster Trucks, with their eight-foot wheels and clusters of shock absorbers, crushed cars as they raced at the grandstand last night and the 18,000-strong crowd loved it. 1986.
Falling angel: Scaffolding surrounds the angel atop the Princes' Gate at Exhibition Place, put up after consultants found substantial damage from age and pollution. 1987
Falling angel: Scaffolding surrounds the angel atop the Princes' Gate at Exhibition Place, put up after consultants found substantial damage from age and pollution. 1987.


Another goddess: Noberto Cardosa, left, and Raoul Guillen apply reinforcing material in production of a replacement for the seven-metre Winged Goddess which had stood for nearly 60 years at the Canadian National Exhibition. 1987
Another goddess: Noberto Cardosa, left, and Raoul Guillen apply reinforcing material in production of a replacement for the seven-metre Winged Goddess which had stood for nearly 60 years at the Canadian National Exhibition. 1987.

1990s:

Ferris wheel, 1996
Ferris wheel, 1996
Cool pastime: Kelly Hood, 23, left, and Roisin Cadieux, 23, both of Toronto, find some relief from yesterday's heat under a fountain at the Ex. 1990
Cool pastime: Kelly Hood, 23, left, and Roisin Cadieux, 23, both of Toronto, find some relief from yesterday's heat under a fountain at the Ex. 1990.
Ex-pert donut maker, Tom Brazier, owner-operator of Tiny Tom Donuts at the Canadian National Exhibition, makes sure each donut flips properly. 1991
Ex-pert donut maker, Tom Brazier, owner-operator of Tiny Tom Donuts at the Canadian National Exhibition, makes sure each donut flips properly. 1991.
Midway, 1996
Midway, 1996

Interested in more unique stories like this? Read more stories of Toronto's history by visiting 150 sTOries, featuring 150 fascinating stories of Canada, with a decidedly Toronto perspective.  

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