The Queen Elizabeth Building
How the Building Came to Be
By the 1950s, the Canadian National Exhibition Association’s Women’s Department programming had grown exponentially. Therefore, in 1954, a proposal for a new Women’s Building was put forth by the CNE Association’s Board of Directors. In 1955, the Canadian National Exhibition Association hired the architects Page and Steele to design and construct a new Women’s Building for the CNE.
In March 1957, Buckingham Palace granted permission for the building to be named in honour of Her Majesty The Queen and thus it became The Queen Elizabeth Building.
Upon completion of the building in 1957, its theatre immediately became home to the CNE’s Women’s Department’s ever-popular fashion shows and cooking demonstrations.
Page and Steele was a Toronto-based architectural firm founded in 1926 by Forsey Page and Harland W. Steele. In the 1950s, they employed Peter Dickinson, a well-known British architect. Dickinson played a prominent role developing much of Toronto’s modernist (mid-century) architecture in this decade. Many of the city’s most celebrated mid-century buildings were designed by his guiding hand including the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre).
The Queen Elizabeth Building was one of seven major structures added to the CNE grounds (now Exhibition Place) between 1948 and 1962, which exemplified the mid-century Modernist movement in Toronto. One of the QE Building’s most distinctive architectural features is its folded plate roof that allowed for uninterrupted interior spaces.
Modernist architectural design consisted of classic, understated looks, and clean lines with minimal ornamentation. It featured structures with ample windows and open floor plans, designed to open up interior spaces in order to bring the “outdoors in”.
Many distinctive appointments are featured in the building including sweeping staircases and a polychromatic marble floor leading into the theatre and an impressive copper sculpture by Canadian artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood above its entrance.
Divided into four separate sections, The Queen Elizabeth Building houses the newly opened Withrow Common (The Executive Offices for the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place until 2014), a 1300 seat theatre, FountainBlu: a multi-purpose event space, and an expansive 63,000 square foot exhibit hall.
In 2016, the Canadian National Exhibition Association was named the winning proponent in a Request for Proposal Process for the re-development and tenancy of the Executive Offices section of the building. The CNEA has transformed the space into a multi-use facility which includes CNE offices and Withrow Common, its exciting new community event space that will serve as its conduit to the surrounding neighbourhoods on a year-round basis.