CNE History Photos

What the CNE used to look like

With origins that date back to the late 19th century, the CNE has long been a Toronto fixture. Prior to 1879, the fair had traveled throughout the province, but eventually settled where the crowds were after local stakeholders campaigned to make it a permanent city attraction.

It's almost startling to see just how well attended the Ex was back in the early 20th century. One imagines that half the city congregated at the fairgrounds, which remain located north of Lake Shore Blvd. and west of Strachan Ave.

CNE History PhotosBack then, the grandstand (later Exhibition Stadium) was a huge draw, featuring horse and motorcycle races, elephant shows, and a dangerous-looking sport called auto polo (which is just what it sounds like).

There were also magnificent and scary high diving displays. After the stadium was expanded to accommodate pro sports teams — both the Blue Jays and the Argos called it home prior to the building of the SkyDome — this element of the CNE faded away.

Exhibition Stadium was finally demolished in 1999, and as of 2006 BMO field occupies its former site.

CNE History Photos

Although its basic configuration has remained the same for many years, the midway was also a very different place. Operated by Conklin between 1937 and 2004, freak shows were a major attraction until the late 1970s, and for decades there was an obvious seediness at the Ex.

There's a rich history here, but the future of the Ex is always an interesting question. It's already been considerably sanitized — in some cases is for the better, but now it lacks a certain excitement level beyond the unveiling of its calorie-laden foods. 

Let's look back at the glory years at the CNE.

1900s

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Ticket lineups.

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Early fireworks show.

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Horse show at the Grandstand.

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The remarkable Crystal Palace, which was lost to fire.

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Ruins of the grandstand after fire (1906).

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Crowds at the Manufacturers Building.

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CNE fountain and crowds.

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Dufferin Gates.

1910s

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Winner of Toronto baby contest.

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Fire diver!

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The notorious freak show.

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Freak show posters on the midway.

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Midway game featuring Kaiser Wilhelm (1914-15).

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Midway performers.

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Auto polo performers.

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Lots of hats at the midway.

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The eastern entrance to the Ex.

1920s

CNE History Photos

Massive midway crowds.

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More midway crowds in the heyday of the CNE.

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Back when the Princes' Gate was new.

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High diver.

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Ferris wheels at night.

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The CNE grounds in 1925.

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The midway in 1928.

1930s

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A giant flagpole.

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Automotive building.

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Bike marathon.

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Bike race.

1940s

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The old Food Building.

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Bandshell crowds.

1950s

Miss Toronto CNE 1951

Miss Toronto Contest in 1951.

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High diver at the Aquarama.

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Garbage removal.

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Midway at night.

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Masons dinner.

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New Food Building.

1960s

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The midway in all its colourful glory.

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Shell Oil Tower.

Lead photo by

Toronto Archives


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