Please join us on a “time-travelling” journey through the rich and colourful 142-year-old history of the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA).
This website is devoted to our heritage.
It is a “photo-log“ of our past: one that features photographs, posters, programme covers, prize list covers, tickets, advertising and newspaper clippings from the CNE over the decades. Each piece reflects the style, the focus, and often the issues, of the time.
The CNE Heritage Site is, and always will be, a “work in progress”. As more and more of our archival images are digitalized, this site will change, evolve, and be embellished over time.
This year (2021) represents another landmark year in the history of our institution. For the second time since the Second World War (1942 - 1946), the 2021 CNE has been cancelled. As was the case last year in 2020, the fair cannot take place this year due to the ongoing war against the spread of the novel coronavirus: COVID-19.
A Snapshot of Canadian History
As a visual travelogue of the history of Canada’s largest fair, the CNE Heritage Site serves as a photographic and psychographic survey of Canadian history as it played out every year since the CNE began in 1879. This year proves to be no exception.
The history of the Canadian National Exhibition is a poignant reflection of the history of this country. Year over year, the CNE images on this website capture Canadian life as it was experienced in a single season in late summer, on a single site situated on the northern shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada.
It features CNE visitors interacting with agriculture, entertainers, exhibits, fashion, food, midway rides, shows, and the new technology of the day. It also details visits by members of the Royal Family, Canadian Prime Ministers, Ontario Premiers and various other dignitaries, over a span of more than a dozen decades.
Even when the CNE was closed during the Second War, the CNE grounds played an important role as a training and recruitment centre for our troops.
Not to be stopped by the war, Patty Conklin of Conklin Shows, the CNE's midway provider, took the Carnival to Toronto's Riverdale Park under the guise of the Fair for Britain in 1942 and 1943. The fun of the fair continued during the early days of the second war.
As we face the challenges presented by the coronavirus: COVID-19 in 2020, it is important to remember that the CNE has faced, and survived, many such obstacles in the past. In addition to two World Wars, these challenges have included the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918/19 , the Great Depression, the polio epidemics of 1937 and 1951, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, the electrical blackout on the Eastern Seaboard that same year, which closed the CNE for our first four days in August 2003, and the H1N1 (the Swine Flu) pandemic in 2009.
It is said that “our past informs our future.” Although the CNE has changed enormously over the years, it remains a vibrant and popular Canadian tradition that generates major economic impact for both the Greater Toronto Area and the Province of Ontario.
Each year, new visitors attend, and new memories are made. This year, these CNE experiences will take place "virtually", online at TheEx.com.
Through this Heritage Site, we explore the experiences and memories of the generations of individuals who walked before us on these historic grounds.
We welcome you aboard this fascinating voyage!
We would like to thank the staff at the Canadian National Exhibition Archives Department, and the City of Toronto Archives for their assistance in assembling the resources for the CNE’s Heritage Website.
Additional resources: Toronto Public Library; James Lorimer, THE EX: A Picture History of the Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel, Publishers, 1973); Keith Walden, Becoming Modern in Toronto: The Industrial Exhibition and the Shaping of a Late Victorian Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997); Once Upon A Century: 100 Year History of the 'EX', John Robertson, Editor (Toronto, Ont: J.H. Robinson Publishing Limited, 1978), The Toronto Star, The Globe, The Globe and Mail and Wikipedia.
Special thanks to Linda Cobon, Head of the CNE Archives Department, and the CNE’s Alicia Cherayil, Program Manager, Arts & Culture for their ongoing support!