Sunday, August 25, 2013

# 40 ~ History at the CNE, Then and Now

The Canadian National Exhibition is already into its second weekend. For many Torontonians, the annual exhibition marks the beginning of the end of summer. The back to school sales have hit the stores, and I've already seen Hallowe'en candy on the shelves. I think about Hallowe'en most of the year round but for any normal people out there it may be a bit of a shock to see it in stores by the second half of August.
August 25, 1919, is the anniversary of two events associated with the history of the Canadian National Exhibition. On that date, the Prince of Wales – who would briefly reign as King Edward VIII before abdicating and becoming the Duke of Windsor – began a three day visit to Toronto. The grounds of the CNE was one of several stops that he made while touring through the city. The First World War had only recently ended, and waves of patriotism must have swept through the crowds that came out to cheer on Canada's future King. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 was still nearly twenty years away, and in the innocent days of 1919, no one would have guessed that the dashing young Prince would throw the Crown into peril.
THEN : The Prince of Wales rides through a crowd of thousands near the old Grandstand at the 1919 CNE.
THEN : The Prince of Wales at the 1919 CNE.

The Prince of Wales also visited a number of military hospitals, as well as the Hospital for Sick Children, which had opened on College Street in 1891, where it remained until the current facility was opened up on University Avenue in 1951.

NOW : The former "Victoria Hospital for Sick Children", on College Street, is now the Canadian Blood Services building.  It was serving as a hospital for children when the Prince of Wales visited in 1919.
NOW : The beautifully carved sign over the College Street entrance to the former Victoria Hospital for Sick Children is one of many architectural gems that lies in wait for those who look up while they wander our city streets.

While in Toronto, the Prince of Wales laid the cornerstone for the Royal Canadian Yacht Club clubhouse on Toronto Island. The previous clubhouse had been destroyed by fire the year before.

THEN : A gathering of members of the Canadian Weekly Newspapers Association outside the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Toronto Islands, 1935.
THEN : The Prince of Wales with Toronto's Mayor Thomas Langton Church, in 1919, on the steps of Toronto's 1899 City Hall. 
Also on August 25, 1919, the first international air race to be held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exhibition took place. The starting point was actually the Leaside Aerodrome, at Eglinton Avenue and Laird Drive, and the target destination was the Roosevelt Airfield in Mineola, New York State. The total distance was 1,142 miles, or 1,838 kilometres. Forty pilots took up the challenge, with many of those never even completing the course. The winner was an American, R.W. “Shorty” Schroeder, but he was disappointed in victory – for some reason, the cash price of $10,000 was never awarded.

The Leaside Aerodrome had opened in 1917 as an airfield for the Royal Flying Corps. In June of 1918, the Leaside Aerodrome became the site of the first delivery of airmail in Canada, with 120 letters delivered by Brian Peck. Today, a plaque stands near the site of the old Leaside Aerodrome. The last hangar at the old aerodrome was not taken down until 1971, and today, the area is covered is home to a number of small business and industrial buildings.

NOW : A plaque near the site of the Leaside Aerodrome describes the history of Canada's first Air Mail delivery.
THEN : Packages destined for the T. Eaton Company's Toronto location arrive at the Leaside Aerodrome in 1928.
2013 marks 135 years of the Canadian National Exhibition on its current locations. If you can take the crowds, don't mind the vendors, and can enjoy the bright lights and cacophony of sounds of the Midway at night, then the annual CNE is a great way to mark the last real weekend of summer. The fair grounds have changed dramatically over the years, but the CNE has certainly become an annual end-of-summer tradition in Toronto.
If you're free, join me for an “After Dark” ghost tour of the CNE grounds this coming Monday and Wednesday night, August 26th and 28th. Tours start at a sign very close to the admission booths right inside the Princes' Gates. Come through the gates, and turn right, and you should see the sign, or simply contact me at for more information (or you can look up “Muddy York Walking Tour Group on facebook). Tours are free with admission, and admission to the grounds is only $5 after 5 o'clock. Tours start at 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock each of those two evenings. For more information you can visit the CNE's website here.
We're always planning special events and tours.  Last night, we held an indoor ghost tour of Mackenzie House Museum for a few dozen of our regulars.  If you're interested, the best way to find out about these special events is through our facebook group, which you can find here.


  1. Nice review, Richard :)

    I doubt we'll get to the CNE this year, despite it being in our 'hood.

  2. i like your way of trip and traveling to search out new and new things. toronto taxi