The Canadian National Exhibition is a longstanding summer tradition. Its opening celebrates the height of summer in the city and its closing marks the unofficial end of summer. For many generations, the “Ex” as locals refer to it, conjured up nostalgic memories of the sweet scent of cotton candy wafting in the air, the cheery musical hum of midway rides and the rainbow assortment of stuffed animals to be won with the mere toss of a ring. For more than a century, this has been the memory of millions of visitors, bringing truth to the age old notion that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Toronto Industrial Exhibition as it was known when it was founded in 1879 was established to promote agriculture, industry and the arts. A name change in 1912 to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) celebrated the Ex’s new mandate as a “show window of the nation.” Over the years, the Ex—and its patrons—have been on the leading cusp of technology and industry: in 1883 visitors were introduced to electric railway transportation; in 1888 to Thomas Edison’s phonograph; in 1922 to radio; and in 1939 to television.
The Ex has also been a showcase for talented artisans, performers and athletes. Between 1905 and the 1970s, the CNE Art Gallery exhibited fine art by Canadian and international artists. Sporting events included everything from the typical—baseball, basketball, and boxing to the peculiar—bathtub racing, frisbee and dog derbies. The CNE Grandstand has seen the likes of Neil Young, The Guess Who, Burton Cummings and April Wine crooning (and often times rocking) on its stage.
Today, the original buildings of the Ex remain (mostly) in tact and unchanged: the majestic Princes’ Gates, the Automotive and Horticulture buildings, the Better Living Centre, and the Bandshell among them, in anticipation of yet another year’s eager crowd. This year, the Ex is open from August 19 to September 5 with a range of eclectic acts and exhibits including David “the Bullet” Smith who will be shot 150 feet from a cannon daily, artistic butter sculptures, an exhibit exploring Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, and Bryan Berg, Guiness World Record card stacker. See you there!—Linda Luong