Canadian National Exhibition

Canada's largest fair, the CNE is an
annual tradition that should not be missed

cne midway The Canadian National Exhibition (also known as the CNE or simply The Ex) is Canada's largest fair and the fifth largest fair of any kind in all of North America.

An annual tradition in Toronto since 1879 when it was known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, the Canadian National Exhibition takes place the last two weeks of August and ends on the Canadian Labour Day. For people of Ontario it marks the end of summer and for many a trip to The Ex is an annual family tradition. During the whole month of August most media outlets are blasted with its famous advertising campaign: "Let's Go To The Ex".

What began over 130 years ago as a means of showcasing Canadian agriculture and technology has morphed into one of the largest entertainments experiences on the continent with 500 attractions, 700 exhibitors and attendance well over 1.3 million visitors. While the Canadian National Exhibition still does feature exhibits and displays of agriculture and technology today it is much, much more than that and includes:
  • A huge carnival Midway (actually two) with over 50 rides and 80 games
  • Food galore with a huge international cuisine
  • Canadian International Air Show
  • A Bandshell featuring concerts from internationally renowned artists
  • Horse Shows
  • Dog Shows
  • Garden Show
  • Daily Parades
  • A petting Zoo
  • An International marketplace with goods from around the world
  • FLOWRIDER splash zone
  • Live Farm
  • Ice Skating Show
  • Casino
  • Live acts featuring: comedians, singers, and magicians

The 18 days of the CNE is definitely the highlight of the Toronto festival season and each year brings in more than $50 million into the city coffers and over $70 million into the Province of Ontario itself.

Taking place at the appropriately named Exhibition Place right in the heart of downtown Toronto the Canadian National Exhibition is surely not to be missed if you are in the city while it is going on. In fact, many people from around the globe and/or former Torontonians themselves make a point of visiting the city while The Ex is running just to experience this wonderful annual tradition.


Location of the Canadian National Exhibition

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Getting to the Canadian National Exhibition:

By Car:

It should be noted that Exhibition Place is located right along the waterfront in downtown Toronto and during the running of the CNE traffic is very heavy along the routes getting to it. Once there however there is quite a bit of parking although it is very expensive.

My suggestion, drive to a GO station outside of the city and take a train right to the Go Exhibition Station. Parking is free at all GO Stations but be forewarned though that the closer you get to Toronto the more chance that the limited parking spaces will be full as many other people have the same idea.

From Niagara Peninsula:
  • Take the QEW Toronto
  • The QEW turns into the Gardiner Expressway
  • Exit at Jameson Avenue
  • Travel along Lake Shore Boulevard until you can find a Canadian National Exhibition parking lot with space

From Western Ontario:
  • Navigate to Highway 401 East
  • Exit at Highway 407 South
  • Highway 427 ends at the Gardiner Expressway, make sure you stay left and head to Toronto
  • Exit at Jameson Avenue
  • Travel along Lake Shore Boulevard until you can find a Canadian National Exhibition parking lot with space

From Northern Toronto:
  • Navigate to Highway 400 South
  • Highway 400 ends at Highway 401, stay right and take Highway 401 West
  • Exit at Highway 427 South
  • Highway 427 ends at the Gardiner Expressway, make sure you stay left and head to Toronto
  • Exit at Jameson Avenue
  • Travel along Lake Shore Boulevard until you can find a Canadian National Exhibition parking lot with space

From Eastern Ontario:
  • Navigate to Highway 401 West
  • When you arrive into Toronto you have two options:

    • Option 1

    • Exit at Don Valley Parkway and head south
    • Don Valley Parkway ends at the Gardiner Expressway (continue to head East)
    • Exit at Lake Shore Boulevard and head West until you can find a Canadian National Exhibition parking lot with space

      Option 2

    • Navigate to Highway 401 West
    • Exit at Highway 427 South
    • Highway 427 ends at the Gardiner Expressway, make sure you stay left and head to Toronto
    • Exit at Jameson Avenue
    • Travel along Lake Shore Boulevard until you can find a Canadian National Exhibition parking lot with space

By Public Transport:

By Bus:

Most major bus companies have regular service to Toronto itself and go either to Union Station and/or their own company stations. This includes Go Transit and even if a community has regular Go rail service it will also have regular Go bus services. The bus service however does reach further than the rail service into many outlying communities.

For more information about bus service into Toronto visit:
By Rail:

Getting over 1 million people to The Ex annually is made possible by both Go Transit and the TTC.

Go Transit runs extra trains during the CNE and has a specially designated stop (Exhibition GO Station). They also run trains more frequently. Go Transit is the major commuter rail network in Ontario and services most major communities along the shores of Lake Ontario in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Visit for more information.

For those traveling from more distant parts of the province rail travel in Ontario is provided by the Via Rail service. Via runs regular service into the nations busiest train station at Union Station and from there it is a simple matter of transferring to a Go Transit train for transport to Exhibition Place. Foe more information visit: and


For those visitors that are staying in Toronto that wish to attend the Canadian National Exhibition you also have the option of taking the local transportation system known as the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Streetcars run regular service along the Bathurst and Harbourfront lines and connect along the Exhibition loop to the Toronto subway system at Bathurst and Union Stations. Visitors staying anywhere in the city should have no problem making the journey down to the CNE. For more information visit:

The TTC also operates the Dufferin bus line that passes through Exhibition Place during the summer and connects with the subway at Dufferin Station. During the course of the CNE the TTC also operates route 193, an express bus route that runs from the Dufferin Gates to the Dundas West subway station. For more information visit:

Getting around the Canadian National Exhibition:

Once you are at the CNE you will find that it is simply huge and involves lots of walking. It is very unlikely that you will see all the attractions, displays, shows and rides in one visit.

To make getting around much easier there is an internal transportation system known as CNE Transit. Five 3-car shuttles pick up and drop off passengers for FREE at 5 stops:
  • Prince's Gate (in front of the Direct Energy Centre)
  • Ontario Place (near the bridge leading to the now closed Ontario Place)
  • BMO Filed (behind BMO Field in front of the casino)
  • Kiddy Midway (at the main entrance to the Kiddy midway)
  • Food Building (in front of the Horse Palace this stop links up with the TTC and GO transit systems)

Please note that while CNE Transit is a great system it is always busy and you may have to wait for a shuttle or two before there is room for you to hop on board, especially at peak times. The best thing about this service though is that it is absolutely free and does help take a load off your weary feet after a long day of walking the pavement.


History of the Canadian National Exhibition

Exhibitions and fairs have been part of the Canadian landscape since before the creation of Canada itself.

Prior to the establishment of the Canadian National Exhibition in 1879, the Town of York began hosting cattle shows in the 1820's. These evolved into traveling fall fairs that, while highlighting agriculture, also included food and craft marketplaces.

In the fall of 1846, the first organized Provincial Agricultural Fair was held at King and Simcoe Streets. The fair then traveled amongst different Canada West communities until returning to Toronto in September of 1852 and was held near University Avenue and College Street on land leased from a local farm.

canadian national exhibition This fair was extremely successful and was attended to by over 30,000 people. Local newspapers however reported that it was not without problems as the buildings housing the various exhibits sprung leaks when it rained and were usually overcrowded with spectators complaining they couldn't properly see the animals or various articles on display. Exhibitors also complained that spectators could only catch brief glimpses of their wares and that the rain was damaging them. This also lent itself to unsafe conditions and recommendations were made that a more permanent location should be established.

The call for a permanent location went unheeded and the agricultural fair continued to travel but the success of the fair in Toronto in 1878, when over 100,000 people passed through the turnstiles, and the awarding of the 1879 fair to Ottawa convinced local politicians that a more permanent location was definitely needed so as Toronto itself could host an annual fair.

Toronto City Council thus leased 8 hectares (20 acres) of land known as the Garrison Reserve on the site of present day Exhibition Place and began construction of several permanent buildings.

The Toronto Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 and was run by the City of Toronto itself. The fair was a huge success and again drew over 100,000 people who paid the 25-cent entrance fee. Its 23 wooden buildings were all devoted to agriculture save one, the marvelous Crystal Palace. This magnificent building had been moved from its former location the previous year.

In 1882 the people of Toronto were exposed to a marvelous new invention when the fairgrounds were lit by electricity. The following year another new invention was introduced here when the electric railway made its appearance (a forerunner to the present day TTC streetcar).

The annual fair continued to grow larger each year and by the time of its name change in 1912 to the Canadian National Exhibition, Exhibition Place occupied 57 hectares (141 acres) of prime waterfront land. There was however one significant setback when the famed Crystal Palace caught on fire and burnt to the ground in 1906. It was replaced by the imposing Horticulture building that still stands in its place today.

Over the years the fair has continued to evolve and less emphasis was placed on agriculture. Other significant milestones in its history include:
  • In 1920 the Canadian National Exhibition became the world's largest annual fair
  • The opening of the Prince's gate in 1927 by Prince Edward and Prince George
  • In 1937 Conklin Shows was awarded the contract to run the midway rides and games
  • The Green family introduces Cotton Candy and ice cream on a stick rolled in nuts at The Ex
  • From 1942 – 1946 the CNE was not held due to World War II and the grounds of Exhibition Place were turned over to the Department of National Defence
  • In 1949 the first Canadian International Air Show is held
  • In 1952 the 73rd annual Canadian National Exhibition was opened by the CBC's first television broadcast in Canadian history
  • In 1954 Marilyn Bell becomes the first person to swim across Lake Ontario and makes landfall at Exhibition Place during the running of the CNE
  • In the 1960's modern technology is featured with the likes of autos, computers and appliances

Today, the Canadian National Exhibition has evolved to occupy almost 80 hectares (197 acres) of land in what has been deemed Exhibition Place, add in parking areas and this number swells to 105 hecatres (260 acres). The site itself is extremely important in Toronto history and today contains several historically or architecturally significant building and structures. The grounds also play host to the huge annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and the Indy Car/Champ Car Honda Indy Toronto race annually.

None of the original exhibition buildings on the site survive but five of the oldest (all over 100 years old) have been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988, they are:
  • Press Building (built in 1905)
  • Fire Hall/Police Station (built in 1912)
  • Music Building (built in 1907) was originally constructed as the Railway Building
  • Horticulture Building (built in 1907) constructed on the site of the original Crystal Palace.
  • Government Building (built in 1912) now houses the Medieval Times restaurant.

Other significant structures to be found worth visiting include:

Fort Rouille Monument

Fort Rouille (also known as Fort Toronto) was built in 1750-51 by French fur traders and was the first European structure built in the Toronto area. Destroyed by its garrison in 1759, a small obelisk erected in the 1850s commemorates its location. For more information visit my Fort Rouille page.

Stanley Barracks

The only part of New Fort York still standing this beautiful limestone building was actually the Officer's Quarter's portion of the fort. Now vacant, this large building was originally constructed in 1840 and was the largest building in the new fort but was renamed the Stanley Barracks in 1893 in honour of Lord Stanley of Preston. Garrisoned by the British until 1840 and then by the Canadian Army until 1947 it has had various uses by the City of Toronto until being abandoned in 1997.

Dufferin Gates

Sitting at the western entrance to the grounds it resembles the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis but it is in fact a few years older as it was erected in 1956. Entrance gates have stood at this location since 1895 and the edifice now standing is actually the third incarnation of the original named after Lord Dufferin. The impressive structure stands 20 metres (65 feet) tall and is 23 metres (74 feet) wide.

Direct Energy Centre

With over 90,000 sq. metres (1 million sq. feet) of floor space it is the largest trade centre in Canada, Originally called the National Trade Centre it annually plays host to numerous trade shows and events.

Ricoh Colosseum

The refurbished Civic arena originally constructed in 1921 is now a multipurpose arena that is home to the Toronto Marlies, the city's American Hockey League (AHL) franchise and farm team to the National Hockey League's (NHL) Toronto Maple Leafs.

Allstream Centre

Originally constructed as the Automotive Building in 1929 it is located next to the Prince's Gate. While once used mainly as a means of displaying the latest automobiles during various events its main function now is that of a conference centre.


Located on the western side of Exhibition Place the Art Deco inspired stage was built in 1936 and has hosted many famous artists from across the globe.

Prince's Gate

One of the most beautiful structures in all of Toronto this monumental gate marks the eastern entrance to Exhibition Place. Originally constructed in 1927 and opened by Prince Edward and Prince George it has become a symbol of the grounds and of Toronto itself. Its 9 pillars (that represented the 9 Canadian provinces at the time) are topped with a winged goddess. Almost always mistakenly called the Princess Gate most visitors to the city make a point of heading down to the iconic structure for a photo opportunity.

Horse Palace

A beautiful Art Deco styled building originally constructed in 1931 it has long been the equestrian facilities for both the Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. In addition to these functions today it also serves as the home base fore all mounted units of the Toronto Police.

The Scadding Cabin

Located next to the Fort Rouille monument is Scadding Cabin, the oldest surviving building in Toronto. This small two-storied log cabin was originally constructed in 1794 at a site near the Don River at the then eastern boundaries of the city and was moved to its present site in 1879 just in time for the first Toronto Industrial Exhibition. For more information, visit my Scadding Cabin page.

Shrine Peace Memorial

This beautiful monument of a winged angel is dedicated to peace and was donated to the city in 1930 by the Shriners order. It was moved to its current location in 1962.

Princess Margaret Fountain

Constructed in 1958 to replace the demolished Gooderham Fountain that had been a landmark in Exhibition Place since 1910 it was opened and dedicated by Princess Margaret herself in that same year.

BMO Field

The Bank of Montreal Field is a multi-purpose stadium built on the site of the former Exhibition Stadium, Toronto's premier sporting and event facility for decades. Primarily a soccer stadium hosting the Toronto FC of the MSLE it is a much-scaled down stadium with a seating capacity of approximately 23,000 depending on the event.


the ex The Canadian National Exhibition is an event that should not be missed if you are in Toronto and it is running. In fact many people plan their trips to the city with a visit to The Ex in mind and make sure they are here during the last 2 weeks of August so they can attend. This is particularly true of the Canadian International Air Show that runs the last 3 days of The Ex. People from around the world attend the show and it is definitely one of the highlights of the CNE.

The weather is usually great and there is so much to see and do that there is something for everyone no matter what the age. The rides at the Midway have different admission options and you can also get an all day unlimited ride pass for one low price.

Food is a huge part of the CNE and you can find delicacies from around the world in addition to local treats such as Beavertails. I myself have been to the Canadian National Exhibition over a dozen times and can never get enough. Highly recommended make sure you dedicate an entire exhausting day to attend. If you are lucky enough to attend on the last day (usually the busiest), The Ex closes with a bang with an impressive fireworks display.

For more information about times, event schedules etc. visit:


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