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Sports & Play

What the CNE looked like in the 1970s

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 9, 2014

toronto cneThe CNE of the 1970s was a technicolor super dream of deep-fried food, neon lights, and eye-popping paint. For 18 days every year, the Tornado rollercoaster hurtled around its metal track, the Sky Diver ferris wheel tipped screaming riders through endless, nauseating barrel rolls, and the erratic Wild Mouse dispensed whiplash injuries.

Elsewhere, the popular menagerie included everything from bright orange Honey Dew Orange Drink to bingo and underwater diving displays. Some of the attractions live on, others have (sadly) disappeared as the fair has evolved. Check out our psychedelic look at the Ex of the 1970s.

toronto cne 1970sAerial view of the CNE grounds, the Princes' Gates, and the city skyline minus the CN Tower. August 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sPartial view of the Wild Mouse rollercoaster and the streetcar line entering the CNE grounds.

toronto cne 1970sCNE grounds and midway, Aug. 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sAerial view including a streetcar loop packed with PCC streetcars.

toronto cne 1970sAerial view of the Sky Diver ferris wheel from the Shell Tower observation deck, Aug. 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sExhibition Stadium from the Shell Tower, Aug 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sThe observation deck of the Shell Tower in 1972.

toronto cne 1970sView of rollercoaster from Shell tower. August 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sTornado rollercoaster.

toronto cne 1970sRiders take the plunge on the Tornado in 1974.

toronto cne 1970sThe Tornado prepares to claim four more victims.

toronto cne 1970s Ferris wheel with bingo and casino buildings, August 20, 1972.

toronto cne 1970sBlue sky, bright clothes, and a view of the cable car.

toronto cne 1970sPress Building, formerly the Administrative Building.

toronto cne 1970sUnidentified ride surrounded by a crowd.

toronto cne 1970s"Honey Dew Orange Drink!!" concession stand. Check out those pink flares.

toronto cne 1970sCrowds in front of a deli, Sept. 4, 1978.

toronto cne 1970sThe display tank of the Underwater Club of Canada--"Quality Skin and Scuba Diving Instruction"--on Aug. 25, 1974.

toronto cne 1970sA new two-level GO car, a PCC streetcar, and a vintage TTC bus on September 4, 1978.

toronto cne 1970s Warren Riddell and his son in front of the CNE fire hall, Aug. 31, 1979.

toronto cne 1970sThe steel-and-glass Shell Oil Tower in the 1960s. The observation deck, a CNE landmark, opened in 1955 with a giant analogue clock face. It was later upgraded to digital before being demolished in 1985.

toronto cne 1970sCarillon Tower branded as the Carlsberg Carillon some time after 1974. It was presented to the CNE by Carling-O'Keefe Breweries that year.

toronto cne 1970sRides at the CNE from the Ontario Place Parking lot. July 7, 1973. Note the digital display atop the Shell Tower.

toronto cne 1970sCNE rides from a parking lot. Half-finished CN Tower rising in the background. Aug. 25, 1974

toronto cne 1970sRides in action as viewed from the CNE parking lot. Aug. 25, 1974

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: City of Toronto Archives



Martin / August 9, 2014 at 09:41 am
The wooden rollercoster was called the Flyer. Check out this point of view ride:
Wild Mouse / August 9, 2014 at 09:54 am
The Wild Mouse frightened me almost as much as now seeing Fob Bored's new heavy-lidded, glassy eyed zombie "Klean and Sober(tm)" look. I'd still take the Wild Mouse any day over that nightmare ghostly apparition.
Steven / August 9, 2014 at 11:24 am
No crowds, more laid back, lost of space between parked cars and the big BULOVA clock was seen from anywhere.
BH / August 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm
Have fun son, and meet me at the Bulova clock tower. :-)
PJ / August 9, 2014 at 01:54 pm
Ahh - the CNE of my youth. It looks so "uncrowded" now. A highlight was the Zipper, the Flyer, Polar Express and the food building where you could get a 5-cent bag of chocolate bars and a Neilson cardboard hat. Thanks for the memories!
W. K. Lis / August 9, 2014 at 04:29 pm
Turning over the historical buildings on the west end of Exhibition Place to Medieval Times (Arts and Crafts Building), Muzik (Horological Building), and Liberty Grand (Ontario Government Building) to non-CNE use was a mistake. Even the Automotive Building is not being used as exhibition space. Exhibits have been shoved into the Direct Energy Building and adjoining buildings. It was a lot better before.
CL / August 9, 2014 at 07:47 pm
That cesspool Muzik is the epitome of the tocix rot which has engulfed the CNE thanks to their spineless shill CEO Dianne Young who does whatever she is told to do by the Ford gang.
Reo / August 9, 2014 at 09:08 pm
Can't wait to see "What the CNE looked like in the 2010s", fourty years from now.
les / August 10, 2014 at 12:44 am
I'm more amazed at how few high rises are in the downtown background, the city looks like a small town. I don't remember it like that! They also used to have ongoing horse shows while the fair was on. The only thing that is the same and tastes the same are those ice cream waffle sandwiches. They really bring back memories.
Ed Hore / August 10, 2014 at 08:50 am
Ah yes! Those are the years I worked there. I knew every nook and cranny.
Leah / August 10, 2014 at 07:36 pm
I think they should bring back the "doggy, doggy, buffalo, buffalo" for those of us bringing our kids and grandkids to a place we grew up loving. To me that phrase brings back fond memories of the CNE.
B. Ross Ashley / August 11, 2014 at 11:43 am
I had not been to the Ex until I had heared the man selling the INvisible Dogs ... "Doggie, DOG-gie!"
nv / August 11, 2014 at 09:12 pm
- remember lining up to play at the ''pull the sting'' to win a prize.
- remember all the free samples in the food building
- remember the free plastic bag with ''Dubble Bubble Gum''
- remember looking at all the ''new and innovative inventions'' in Better Living Building.
- remember the small of lavender upon entering the Better Living Building.
- remember seeing Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and the Scottish Tattoo.
- remember just sitting outside listening to all the rock concerts we couldn't get tickets for.
(I still use the orange slicer/diser thing my mum bought in the late 60's)
Charlene St.John / August 11, 2014 at 10:04 pm
It used to be great. For $3 bucks you're laughing at the CNE. I had gone to the ex every year since I was born until last year. They cut the ice show, one of the highlights, I used to take my kids to see the water show - cut. Better Living Centre used to show you all the new gadgets and home products taken over by a casino. Food building used to give you samples and the prices were cheap. You pay more to get in and get less(Even when you buy your tickets in advance). There was nothing left to see or do. Redundant, repetitive. Last year we went to the New York State Fair instead. Maybe it wasn't as good but it was different and cheaper. This year we went to the Ohio state fair. It was great.
Duh! / August 11, 2014 at 11:10 pm
Well, yeah it used to be cheaper to go to the Ex. What the heck are you expecting? Your beer and cigarets have gone up too in case you haven't noticed. It still is fun, but people often get jaded as they grow old and imagine life was better back in the day. That is a sure sign of approaching senior citizenship.
scottd / August 12, 2014 at 10:51 am
The Shell tower should never have been ripped down.
Dave / August 13, 2014 at 09:43 am
It's not so much about the price, it's the value and there's no question that there was better value back then. The buildings were worth walking into because you would see completely different things in the different they are mostly flea markets selling the same old stuff. Now it is a jumble of cheap crap, lousy rides and overpriced food. No thanks.
shelly rootes / August 13, 2014 at 05:14 pm
I grew up down there, it was my playground worked for Conklin Shows since 1976, and until 1995. I remember the Chum summer midway, and black the beginning of 1980 to 1990's it was something else and ruined the CNE on labour day. What a shame, the grounds starting closing at 5 pm and buildings at 6 and the midway closed at 8 pm. The old days before all the crap went down, it was the best day to go down to the CNE, opened until midnight, and buildings till 10 pm with all the bargains. The midway was packed all the time and the food building with all the free stuff that doesn't happen either. It is a shame, the CNE changed so much in 40 years. The readers are right, the rides are terrible since no independent ride owners are not allowed to be there on the circuit anymore, and the building are huge flee markets. Really the CNE board of governor's should do something about it. I remember the Carlsberg building, with the horses and the beer garden there, also each year with the wizard of oz, and the batman showcase. The better living center was the building of the century, and to showcase what is new. The automotive building was full of new cars, and old ones for people to dream. Memories of my childhood, and teenage years and adult years. My family still goes down a few times a year, but just not the same with everything gone. To top it off no grandstand shows anymore :( very sad. No wonder people go to the Erie fair, and Wonderland. Wake up CNE bring back the great CNE, which Toronto is known for.
Rob / August 17, 2014 at 10:28 am
"Do ya wanna go faster?"
Suz In Toronno replying to a comment from shelly rootes / August 28, 2014 at 02:15 pm
The three words "Chum Summer Midway" bring it all back! :)
Henry Marshall replying to a comment from Duh! / September 1, 2014 at 06:55 pm
You obviously aren't old enough to have any idea of what you are talking about. If you had actually seen the CNE as it was in its heyday you would know that it has suffered over the years in more than our imaginations. I am not a Senior Citizen yet by a long shot but I'm old enough to have more of a clue than you.
Barbara MacKellar / September 1, 2014 at 07:02 pm
I don't know the official name of the "unidentified ride," but we called it the double ferris wheel.
Beverlee / September 1, 2014 at 07:48 pm
Ahhh...I went twice this year and would have liked a 3rd visit. It was lovely and awesome. I like the changes. The rides are great. Food is way way overpriced, even more than what they charge at their restaurants. In any event, the ambiance is wonderful. Games are overpriced and the prizes are so so cheap. I still love that place so much. Childhood memories are still childhood memories. I will always love my beloved CNE.
S Mitchell replying to a comment from BH / September 1, 2014 at 07:48 pm
Yep! Meet at the Bulova tower! can you imagine that today?
Ryan / September 1, 2014 at 08:55 pm
The look of some of those Conklin people still look like they're stuck in the 70s
Katie / September 1, 2014 at 09:01 pm
The Unidentified ride is a skywheel. Manufactured by Allen Herschall most likely. Also, you identify the Wild Cat as the tornado in one of your pictures. Great ones by the way.
RCL / September 1, 2014 at 09:26 pm
Ah, the 1970's was the "better times" for the CNE before the fires came to destroy some of the buildings, followed by the demolition of so much later on. With the closure of Ontario Place, its just not the same any more.

By sheer coincidence, I came across this CBC documentary last week on "Patty Conklin", which all those who remember Conklin should watch:

And here's an interesting page about the history of Conklin Shows.
Frances / September 2, 2014 at 02:35 am
I cried the day they tore down The Flyer. My first job was at the CNE lasted a week as the TTC went on strike and my parents didn't drive , so I had noway of getting to work.
Went to every Osmond concert. Took my youngest and his friends last year and they loved it.
"Does anyone wanna go faster"? Polar ex press was one of my favorites. Thanks for the look back
peter duxbury / September 2, 2014 at 03:32 am
I think the ex sucks its Finnished every year they make it smaller and smaller. The rides suck its just a big flee market the set up was terrible the sipline had cables everwhere by the food building where they always had shows to wach.the horse building was closed just 3building s you could go in nothing to see in them no freak shows no arcades no honey dew .you have to change this or it will die bring back conklin shows i remember when the ex would have 3million people come through now its only 1million whats that tell ya.
James / September 2, 2014 at 05:49 pm
Ah the memories. Mom used take us down to meet my dad there. Always on a weekday - He'd take off work and we'd have a blast. Then it was always to Fran's to end the evening with a Belgian waffle. Toronto in the '70s was great. Space, good transit, minimal traffic.
Scott Carpenter / September 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm
Man I spent a LOT of time there when I worked at CHUM back in the day. How many friggin' Osmond Brothers shows did I have to MC at the grandstand? Seems like 50!!!
hgkhfkdgjdgd / September 3, 2014 at 02:28 pm
i went on the skydiver when i was like 5 and i almost shit my pants, never again
Laurie Poole / September 3, 2014 at 08:49 pm
I love the ex!
Sure it was better when I was a kid but so was
I had a great time this year with my Mom &
Daughter & niece, the midway bracelets were
A good buy. The zip line was fabulous and
A fair price.
I miss the Fleer dubble bubble in the Food
Building too...
What ever became of the Derby Racer???
Vicki replying to a comment from les / September 5, 2014 at 09:48 am
When I was in my early teens I worked there at the Waffle and Ice Cream stand in front of the CNE Bandstand...oh what memories!
Karen Eden Reijnen / September 13, 2014 at 07:54 am
58 yrs. And went to the ex this summer. Always such a end of summer experience. Went at night and loved it. Caught ELO at the Bandshell and went on the Zipper. Had to. Teenage memories. Still turned my stomach upside down but loved it.
janet-hill-kay / August 18, 2015 at 06:10 pm
Remember being on the island all summer (hanlan's point) living with my grandparents, would go down to beach nearly every night to watch the fireworks from the ex, remember getting the cupie doll on a stick, then getting older the shell tower, the flyer, best ride in the cne back then lineups used to go right around the ride, remember the Nobet Tavern was in there quite often met John Mayberry of the new Blue Jays, went in there cause it was so cold opening day 1977, remember Carlsberg building good bands and beer, food building, loved the double bubble gum, could go in there and come out with bags full of free stuff, chocolate bars, gum you name it you got it, tiny tom donuts, ice cream waffles right by cne stadium, outside the bingo hall, they had excellent prizes in that bingo, automotive building was always great to go into, colisseum with fresh foods from ontario foodland, flower building and yes do remember lavender whenever you entered the better living centre, haven't been back to cne since maybe 1990, from what i see and what i hear i am not missing a thing, all the good buildings are gone and a glorified flea market is what it is,too bad
Jay / August 21, 2015 at 10:49 pm
Ah yes, the 70s
Used to get a free pass to the Ex with our report cards.
Good times!
fred / August 31, 2015 at 10:41 am
Great article - Is the Shell Tower later the Bulova Tower?
CNE = Good times
Mark / April 18, 2016 at 10:52 pm
Doggie doggie.
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