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Canadian National Exhibition

Canadian National Exhibition
The CNE on August 31, 2012
Genre Provincial fair/Agricultural and entertainment
Dates 18 days from mid-August to Labour Day (September)
Location(s) Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario
Years active 137
Founded 1879
Attendance 1.43 million (2014)[1]

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), also known as The Ex, is an annual event that takes place at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, during the 18 days leading up to and including Canadian Labour Day Monday. With approximately 1.3 million visitors each year, the CNE is Canada’s largest annual fair and the seventh largest in North America. The first Canadian National Exhibition took place in 1879, largely to promote agriculture and technology in Canada. Agriculturists, engineers, and scientists exhibited their discoveries and inventions at the CNE to showcase the work and talent of the nation. As Canada has grown as a nation, the CNE has also changed over time, reflecting the growth in diversity and innovation, though agriculture and technology remain a large part of the CNE today. To many people in the Greater Toronto Area and the surrounding communities, the CNE is an annual family tradition.


  • Site 1
  • Shows and attractions 2
  • Food 3
    • Food Building 3.1
    • Food Truck Frenzy 3.2
    • RibFest 3.3
    • Restaurants 3.4
  • Shopping 4
  • Economic impact 5
    • Research 5.1
    • Tourism 5.2
    • Jobs 5.3
    • Partners 5.4
  • Environmental initiatives 6
    • EcoLogo certification 6.1
    • Environmental strategy 6.2
      • Energy conservation 6.2.1
      • Emissions reduction 6.2.2
      • Waste diversion 6.2.3
  • Governance and organizational structure 7
    • Canadian National Exhibition Association 7.1
    • Relationship with City of Toronto prior to independence 7.2
    • CNEA independence 7.3
    • Organizational structure 7.4
      • Board of Directors 2014 to 2015 7.4.1
  • History 8
    • Post-war years and modernization 8.1
    • Recent history 8.2
  • Gallery 9
  • List of buildings at the CNE 10
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


The Princes' Gates entrance to the Exhibition.

The CNE is held at Exhibition Place, which is a 192-acre site located along Toronto’s waterfront on the shores of Lake Ontario and just west of downtown Toronto. Both the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and GO Transit provide service to Exhibition Place. The site features several buildings and structures—many of which have been named significant under the Ontario Heritage Act—roads named after the Canadian provinces and territories, parks, fountains, plazas, a rose garden, statues and parking lots.

Shows and attractions

The 18-day fair itself consists of a mix of pavilions, exhibits, shows, concerts, a working farm, horse show, casino, and a large carnival midway with rides, games and food.

The 2015 CNE operated from Friday, August 21 until Labour Day on Monday, September 7. 2015 features included:

  • Bandshell Stage concerts
  • Bon Voyage!: Aerial Acrobatics & Ice Skating Show
  • Canadian International Air Show on Labour Day weekend
  • Celebrity Chef Stage
  • CNE Sky Ride
  • Food Building
  • Garden Show
  • Hollywoof: The President's Choice SuperDogs Show
  • International Pavilion and International Stage
  • Mardi Gras Parade
  • Midway rides and games
  • RUSH: Parkour Demonstrations
  • XPogo Stunt Team
  • A variety of daily live performances such as musical acts, dancers, comedy shows, and even magic shows

The 2013 and 2014 CNEs featured a zip line ride. Operated by Ziptrek Eco Tours, the CNE zip line was the highest and longest temporary zip line in the world. The launch tower, positioned southeast of the Food Building, measured 180 feet high (approx. 55 metres). The landing tower, southwest of the Direct Energy Centre, was 60 feet high (approx. 18 metres). The zip line ride consisted of four lines, each measuring just shy of 1,100 feet (approx. 335 metres). Zip line riders travelled at approximately 65 km/hour.


Food is considered by many visitors to be a key part of the CNE experience. Many options are available across the 192-acre site during the 18 days of the fair.

Food Building

A major destination for CNE visitors, the Food Building offers a wide variety of food options ranging from classic fair favourites, such as Beaver Tails, Funnel Cakes and Tiny Tom Donuts, to international cuisine, to standard fare like pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries, as well as novelty items, including Krispy Kreme Burger, Deep Fried Mars Bars and Nutella Fries. Halal, vegetarian and healthy food options are also widely available.

Food Truck Frenzy

During the 2012 to 2015 seasons, the CNE hosted a food truck rally called "Food Truck Frenzy." This event took place on Princes' Boulevard just inside the Princes' Gates at the east end of the grounds. The 2015 edition featured 25 food trucks serving specialty foods. A "Craft Beer Fest" was added to the event in 2015, which gave guests the opportunity to sample locally crafted beers.


Since 2007, the CNE hosts a RibFest in Bandshell Park during the fair. Each year, the ribbers compete in a competition where a panel of judges selects a CNE RibFest Champion.


Several licensed restaurants operate on the grounds, including: the Casino Patio, Gossip Restaurant, Striker's Bar & Grill, the Molson Canadian Midway Stage bar area, and a Wine Garden in Heritage Court.


A number of shopping options are available for visitors to the CNE:

  • Arts, Crafts & Hobbies Pavilion
  • At Home Pavilion
  • Garden Show
  • International Pavilion
  • Kitchen Gourmet
  • Outdoor Marketplace
  • Piazza of Cultures
  • Shoppers' Market
  • Warehouse Outlets

Economic impact


A 2009 Economic Impact Assessment, conducted by Enigma Research Corporation, reports that the CNE generates an estimated C$58.6 million for the city of Toronto and C$80 million for the province of Ontario each year.

The study also reveals that the 2009 CNE attracted more than 275,000 out-of-town visitors to the city, and that fair-related hiring creates an equivalent of 633 full-year jobs in the region. Spending also supports $12.9 million of tax revenue at three levels of government.

This national research initiative, commissioned by the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE), was conducted at 20 fairs of varying sizes throughout Canada in 2008. A total of 1,200 people were interviewed during the 2008 Canadian National Exhibition alone.

Other highlights of the research, included a sample size of 1,200 people in on-site, face-to-face interviews, include:

  • Local residents spend US$52 million related to the CNE
  • The average non-local spent 2.5 nights in Toronto


The CNE works with several organizations to promote tourism to the Greater Toronto Area and the province of Ontario, including: Festivals and Events Ontario, Tourism Toronto and Attractions Ontario.


One of the many ways the CNE helps to boost the local economy is through job creation. The CNE hires approximately 1,200 people starting in the spring of each year to assist in the planning and production of the annual fair. An additional 3,500 people are hired during the Fair itself by CNE partners including Emergency Services, Toronto Police, Toronto Fire, food vendors, exhibitors and concessionaires. For many young people growing up in Toronto, the CNE is their first employment experience.


With annual visitation of approximately 1.4 million people, the CNE gives companies an excellent venue to sell their wares and connect with their audiences face to face. Many corporate sponsors and over 700 exhibitors, including many Canadian and international businesses, contribute to the CNE.

Environmental initiatives

EcoLogo certification

In 2010, the Canadian National Exhibition became the first fair in North America and the first large-scale event on the continent to receive EcoLogo certification, one of North America’s largest and most respected environmental standard and certification marks. EcoLogo certification is based on stringent criteria that examine the entire life-cycle of a product and the CNE’s success in achieving this honour formally recognizes the fair as an environmental leader. (Canadian National Exhibition is EcoLogo - Certified to Events CCD-095.)

Environmental strategy

In addition to fulfilling EcoLogo certification requirements, the CNE's environmental strategy consists of three components:

Energy conservation

  • Decorative lighting on the Midway is turned off during daylight hours
  • Solar panels are utilized throughout the grounds in locations such as the Horse Palace roof, on staff golf carts, on the Midway games, and on garbage compactors
  • In 2008 the CNE introduced solar-powered concession games on the Midway
  • All of the CNE’s decorative tree lighting has been replaced with LED lights to reduce electricity consumption

Emissions reduction

  • The CNE encourages visitors to take public transit, ride their bicycles, and/or walk to get to the site
  • Bicycle racks and bike parking areas are strategically placed around the grounds to accommodate cyclists
  • The vast majority of golf carts used by CNE staff are powered using electricity (vs. gas-powered)
  • On the CNE grounds there are bio-diesel generators that power rides at the fair

Waste diversion

  • A wide range of materials are recycled and diverted from landfills each season including, but not limited to, cardboard, paper, organic waste, paper hand towels, wood, metals, street sweepings, concrete/asphalt, hay, and cooking oil
  • The CNE provides water refill stations where guests may refill reusable water bottles to reduce the number of disposable plastic bottles that are used
  • During the fair a vast number of recycling, compost, and garbage receptacles are placed around the grounds
  • The use of polystyrene foam is no longer allowed on the CNE grounds, thus reducing the amount of waste that cannot be recycled
  • In the Food Building, tableware is predominantly compostable, which increases the amount of waste that the CNE is able to send to composting facilities, rather than to a landfill
  • Waste diversion rates:
    • 2009 - 77.30%
    • 2010 - 83.76%
    • 2011 - 81.93%
    • 2012 - 82.82%
    • 2013 - 86.36%

Governance and organizational structure

Canadian National Exhibition Association

The CNE is operated by the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA) and its volunteer Board of Directors. The CNEA is governed under the jurisdiction of the Canadian National Exhibition Association Act of 1983 as amended by the Statutes of Ontario in 1999 (as Canadian National Exhibition Association 2000) and the Province of Ontario Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act of 1988. The CNEA resides on a municipal site known as Exhibition Place, which is governed by the Board of Governors (BOG) of Exhibition Place, a local board of management of the City of Toronto.

Relationship with City of Toronto prior to independence

Through various agreements with the City of Toronto, the CNEA operated as a program of the BOG until March 31, 2013. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlined the various administrative, financial and operational services to be provided to the CNEA by Exhibition Place. The MOU also provided for the use of the buildings and grounds for the annual CNE. During the last decade, the CNEA contributed more than $20 million in site fees to the annual operating budget of the BOG, in addition to $7.3 million in operating surpluses. These contributions were included in consolidated annual financial results from the CNEA and BOG for the benefit of the City of Toronto.[2]

CNEA independence

On January 27, 2012, the BOG and CNEA announced that the CNEA will officially become financially independent from both the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto in 2013. "Chair of the Board [BOG], City Councillor Mark Grimes stated, 'The independence of the CNEA is good for both the CNEA and Exhibition Place. The agreement will protect the Board of Governors and the City against any negative financial consequences and at the same time allow the CNEA to reach financial and organizational stability for the new independent organization.'"[3] "It will be beneficial for the CNEA to be independent from the City of Toronto to be able to determine and implement consumer strategies and fiscal decisions that are made in the interest of the CNEA and its visitors, as experts within the fair business."[4] As an independent organization, the CNEA will be able to retain its profits and re-invest in the fair.[5] "'This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Canadian National Exhibition,' stated Brian Ashton, President of the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA). 'We believe that as an independent business we can flourish and present an annual fair that will make Toronto and Canada proud!'" [6] "Toronto City Council will be asked for approval of this new agreement at their March 5–6, 2012 meeting."[7]

The new agreement was approved by Toronto City Council and the CNEA officially became independent on April 1, 2013. The CNEA is a non-share capital corporation and a tenant of the BOG to which it pays rent for the use of the grounds and buildings for the annual fair, as well as fees for operational services.[8] The CNEA is not involved with year-round operations, events or development at Exhibition Place.

Organizational structure

The CNEA has over 125 member individuals and associations representing each of the following sectors: Municipal, Manufacturers and Industry, Agriculture, and General and Liberal Arts. Member associations appoint a representative to the CNEA and approximately 15 members are appointed directly by the CNEA from the community-at-large. Each year a Board of Directors is elected from this membership, giving equal representation to each section. Six representatives of the Municipal section are appointed by Toronto City Council.

Board of Directors 2014 to 2015

Executive Committee:
President Brian Ashton
Honorary President Jim Melvin
1st Vice President John Kiru
Vice President Councillor Mike Layton
Vice President Domenic Lunardo
Vice President Jennifer Ward


Past Presidents Honorary President
Knox Henry Jim Melvin
Jim McMillen
Section 1 - Municipal Section 2 - Manufacturers & Industry
Mayor John Tory Brian Ashton
Councillor Vincent Crisanti Karen Barker
Councillor Justin Di Ciano John Kiru
Linda Franklin Ted Papadatos
Councillor Norm Kelly Greg Pollock
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti
Councillor Mike Layton
Section 3 - Agriculture Section 4 - General & Liberal Arts
Bill Ford Randy Bauslaugh
Valerie Love Darla Campbell
Domenic Lunaro Jacquie Perrin
Steven Sokalsky Anna Rose
Jim Wilson Jennifer Ward


CNE poster for Canada's Victory Celebration, 1919

In September 1846, a fair sponsored by the Provincial Agricultural Association and the Board of Agriculture for Canada West, was held in Toronto in the area near present-day King and Simcoe Streets. While primarily an agricultural event, it also displayed manufactured goods and decorative arts and crafts. The fair was a success and it was proposed that future fairs be held in different locations each year. In 1847, the fair was held in Hamilton and thereafter travelled to such cities as Cobourg, Kingston, Niagara and Brockville.[9]

In 1852, the fair returned to the west side of University Avenue (see Grange Park (neighbourhood)), stretching from a bit north of Dundas Street to a bit south of College Street. It lasted four days. The Horse Park, on the west side of the grounds, was loaned to the fair by Mrs. Boulton, who lived in the Grange and it was bounded on the north by the Caer Howell Pleasure Grounds (in a way a forerunner of the midway). The Fair was a success, attracting more than 30,000 visitors.

In 1853, the fair moved on to another city and didn’t return to Toronto until 1858 and then again in 1878. After the 1878 fair, Toronto City Council and the local Exhibition Committee approached the Provincial Agriculture Association with a proposition: that the fair remain permanently in Toronto. The Association thanked City Council and the Exhibition Committee for their work in delivering a successful fair in 1878, but informed them that a decision had already been made to move the fair to another city in 1879.[10]

Undeterred, Toronto City Council, along with local businessmen, moved ahead with plans to establish a permanent fair in Toronto. That fair would be called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. It opened on September 3, 1879 and lasted for three weeks. An attendance in excess of 100,000 paid admissions and 8,234 exhibits, spelled success for the new exhibition. The fair continued to grow and prosper and soon came to be known as the “Show Window of the Nation.” Starting with just over 50 acres in 1879, the fair, situated on a parcel of land known as Exhibition Place, now stretches from the Gardiner Expressway (north end), to Lake Shore Boulevard (south end), and from Strachan Avenue (east end), to the Dominion Gates (west end), covering 196.6 acres (0.796 km2) of land.

In 1912, the Toronto Industrial Exhibition changed its name to the Canadian National Exhibition to better reflect the scope and reach of the fair. In fulfilling its mandate, the CNE has featured exhibits on the latest technological advances in industry and agriculture. CNE patrons were introduced to electric railway transportation in 1883, to Edison's phonograph in 1888, to the wireless telephone in the 1890s, to radio in 1922, to television in 1939, to plastics and synthetics in the 1940s.

In 1937, Conklin Shows was awarded the contract to provide amusement rides and games for the CNE midway. The company built the "Flyer" wooden roller-coaster on site as well as delivering rides and games each year during the CNE duration. The company continued to provide this service until 2004, at which point it merged with other leading midway operators to form North American Midway Entertainment, which continues to supply the Ex.

During the Second World War, as during the First World War, the CNE grounds became home to detachments of the Canadian military. In 1939, the Royal Canadian Air Force moved into the Coliseum. The Canadian Army took over the Horse Palace and the Royal Canadian Navy converted the Automotive Building into HMCS York. During the summers of 1940 and 1941, most of the troops stationed at the CNE were re-located. Those troops remaining either continued their regular administrative duties or participated in CNE displays and events aimed at promoting the Canadian war effort. CNE officials had hoped to continue the annual fair throughout the years of the war. In the spring of 1942, however, the CNE agreed to turn the grounds over to the Canadian military for use year-round. During the military occupation of the grounds, virtually every CNE building, large or small, was put to use by the Canadian armed forces. The CNE grounds remained closed and under the control of the Canadian military until 1946. Between 1945 and 1946, Exhibition Park acted as a demobilization centre for returning soldiers.

Post-war years and modernization

The CNE resumed in 1947. Canadians returned to the CNE to see the latest in consumer goods and agricultural advancements. The fair also remained a major hub for sporting events and entertainment. Over time, the CNE moved away from its country-fair heritage toward an increasingly modern, cosmopolitan look and feel. In recent years, the CNE has changed extensively to meet the needs of the growing and changing demographics of Toronto and Southern Ontario.

Recent history

See below for a list of recent CNE milestones organized by year:


  • Virginia Ludy appointed General Manager, replacing long-time GM David Bednar who officially retired May 8, 2015
  • CNE launches the new website to showcase the fair's 137-year history
  • Canadian Olympic gold-medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir star in the CNE's ice skating and aerial acrobatics show, Bon Voyage!
  • Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends the CNE on August 22[11]


  • CNEA celebrates first year of independence from Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto on April 1, 2014
  • CNE Opening Ceremonies commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Great War with special guests: Mayor Rob Ford; Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly; the Honourable Peter Van Loan; MPP Han Dong; and R. H. Thomson
  • CNE launched Gift Card Tickets at major supermarkets in the Greater Toronto Area as part of its Advance Ticket Discount promotion available during the summer until the night before opening


  • 135th anniversary of the CNE (1879)
  • CNEA becomes independent from Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto on April 1, 2013
  • Introduction of the CNE Zip Line, the highest and longest temporary zip line in the world
  • Food borne illness issue in Food Building traced back to a specific food item sold by Epic Burger


  • Introduction of the Sky Ride, which harkens back to the popular Alpine Way
  • Canadian Olympic gold-medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform in La Vie: Aerial Acrobatics & Ice Skating Show during the first 15 days of the fair, and three-time World Champion and Olympic silver-medalist Elvis Stojko closes out the show Labour Day weekend
  • CNE app available for Android as well


  • 75th anniversary of the CNE Bandshell (1936)
  • 25th anniversary of the Rising Star Competition (1986)
  • CNE introduces a mobile app for iPhone and BlackBerry


  • CNE becomes first fair in North America and the first large-scale event on the continent to achieve EcoLogo Certification
  • Introduction of the popular treat, deep-fried butter
  • 10th anniversary of the Friends of the CNE volunteer program (2000)


  • 50th anniversary of Tiny Tom Donuts (1959)


  • 50th anniversary of the Princess Margaret Fountain (1958)
  • 60th anniversary of the Canadian International Air Show (1948)


  • Aquareves nighttime show introduced
  • CNE introduces a RibFest on opening weekend


  • Introduction of an aerial acrobatics and ice skating during the CNE
  • 50th anniversary of the Lions-CNE Peewee Baseball Tournament (1956)


  • 100th anniversary of the Press Building, the home of the CNE offices (1905)
  • CNE Mardi Gras Parade introduced


  • RCMP Musical Ride


  • 125th anniversary of the CNE
  • First four days of the CNE hampered by the 2003 blackout
  • Skywalker Jay Cochrane walks 250 metres along a cable 20 stories above the ground, three shows daily


List of buildings at the CNE

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Exhibition Place website. 2012.
  4. ^ Exhibition Place website. 2012.
  5. ^ CNE website. 2013.
  6. ^ Exhibition Place. (2012). Independence of the Canadian National Exhibition Association.
  7. ^ Exhibition Place. (2012). Independence of the Canadian National Exhibition Association.
  8. ^
  9. ^ CNE Archives. 2013.
  10. ^ CNE Archives. 2013.
  11. ^ "Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends CNE". Twitter. Canadian National Exhibition. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 


  • Avigdor, Jeanine. 1994. The Scadding Cabin, 1794: Toronto's Oldest House. The York Pioneer and Historical Society. ISBN 0-9698404-0-3.
  • Once Upon a Century: 100 Year History of The "Ex". 1978. Ed: John Withrow. J.H. Robinson Publishing Ltd.

External links

  • CBC Archives Patty Conklin gives a tour of the CNE with CBC Radio (1958)
  • CBC Archives CBC Television story about Patty Conklin in 1971 as he helps set up the CNE.
  • Canadian National Exhibition
  • CNE Heritage
  • Automotive Building
  • Exhibition Place & CNE Archives
  • Dufferin Gate
  • Fort Rouille Monument
  • Let There Be Peace (About the Shrine Peace Memorial)
  • Muppet Central News - Elmo will lead in Guinness World Record for the largest Hokey-Pokey
  • Press Building
  • The National Trade Centre, Toronto, Canada
  • Scadding Cabin
  • Transit TorontoStreetcars to the Exhibition,
  • The Canadian EncyclopediaCanadian national exhibition,
  • Canadian national exhibition, "Toronto history"
  • Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University: archival images of the CNE from the Toronto Telegram fonds
  • CNE Association looks at independence from city
  • Memories of the Canadian National Exhibition
  • Exhibition Place: Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) as Largest Fair in Canada
  • Independence of the Canadian National Exhibition Association

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