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Our History

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was founded in 1879 for the purpose of fostering the development of agriculture, industry and the arts. 

Originally called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, the name was officially changed to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912 to better represent what the fair had become: "A Show Window of the Nation". 

The CNE continued to grow and to reflect the changes in Canadian society as the emphasis slowly shifted from Agriculture to Industry. 

By 1912, the fairgrounds covered close to 350 acres and included one of the finest amusement parks and permanent exhibition facilities in the world. 

To learn more about our history and enjoy images from our past, please visit www.cneheritage.com

 

Highlights of our History

New Technology

In fulfilling its original mandate, the CNE featured exhibits on the latest technological advances in industry and agriculture. 

CNE patrons were introduced to:

  • Electric railway transportation in 1883,
  • Edison's phonograph in 1888,
  • The wireless telephone in the 1890s,
  • Radio in 1922,
  • Television in 1939,
  • Plastics and synthetics in the 1940s & 1950s, and to
  • Virtual Reality in 1992.

Fine Art

Introducing Canadians to fine art and to the work of skilled artisans was also an important feature of the CNE, beginning in 1879.  The CNE Art Department, in conjunction with the Ontario Society of Artists, presented major art exhibitions that, for many years, were unparalleled elsewhere in the City of Toronto. 

Between 1905 and the 1970s, displays of international and Canadian fine art were housed in a building erected specifically for that purpose, the CNE Art Gallery. 

Over the course of two years (1965 & 1966), the CNE donated a total of 340 works of art to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).   These included works by Group of Seven artists:  A.J. Casson and A.Y. Jackson.

Sports

Another integral part of the CNE was sports.  In 1879, the CNE hosted the Caledonian Games and Bicycle Races. 

From this modest beginning, the number and types of sporting events grew steadily to include:

  • Archery,
  • Automobile racing,
  • Baseball,
  • Basketball,
  • Bathtub racing,
  • Boxing,
  • Canoeing,
  • Darts,
  • Diving,
  • Dog Derbies,
  • Fencing,
  • Football,
  • Frisbee,
  • Gymnastics,
  • Handball,
  • Harness racing,
  • Judo,
  • Karate,
  • Motorboat racing,
  • Rowing races,
  • Sailing,
  • Skateboarding,
  • Snooker,
  • Soccer,
  • Swimming,
  • Marathon swims,
  • Track and field,
  • Water skiing,
  • Weightlifting &
  • Bungee jumping.

Entertainment

Family entertainment has always been paramount at the CNE.  The early Grand Stand shows included casts of thousands performing in elaborate historical pageants. 

After World War II, prominent Canadian and international stars graced the stage of the Grand Stand and the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and Benny Goodman attracted large crowds to the CNE Dance Tent and the International Building. 

The CNE Midway

Family entertainment has always included the thrills and excitement of the CNE midway.  Even before the word “midway” was coined at the turn-of-the-century, the rides, games and side shows featured at the CNE attracted young and old alike. 

Today, as always, it is on the midway of the Canadian National Exhibition where one attains a keen sense of the timelessness of this annual exhibition.

The Fair Today  

With the dawn of the internet and the proliferation of trade and consumer shows throughout the region, the CNE is not necessarily the place one goes to see the “latest and greatest in new technology” in the 21st Century.

That said, the fair continues to be one of Ontario’s great annual traditions and an event that offers substantial entertainment value for money.  It features a wide variety of visceral and sensory experiences that transcend language and appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. 

Taking place over the 18 days leading up to and including Labour Day, the CNE is affectionately embraced as an end-of-summer ritual by more than 1.4 million visitors annually, visitors who reflect the rich diversity of Toronto and the region.

In April 2013, the CNEA became organizationally independent from Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto.  In the years ranging from 1983 to March 2013, the CNEA maintained its status as an Agricultural Society and was also a program of Exhibition Place, a board of management of the City of Toronto.  During this time, all CNEA surpluses and deficits were absorbed by Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto. 

The CNEA is financially stable and is not dependent on government subsidy.  The Association’s new independent status enables it to retain the revenues it generates and to reinvest them in the Canadian National Exhibition.

 

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