Me & the CNE – Ever Changing & Always A Tradition

by Neilia Sherman

Neilia Sherman at the CNE Exhibition in Toronto
Neilia Sherman at the CNE Exhibition in Toronto

The Canadian National Exhibition is a veritable Toronto institution and I am one of its biggest fans. I have gone to the “Ex” every summer that I can remember since the mid-sixties  and although it is ever changing, it is always a great experience. I even put my way through university working summers at the Canada’s oldest and largest fair–
selling tickets to rides and working as a security guard although I’m only five feet tall.

Established in 1879, Canada’s largest annual fair was then called the Canadian Industrial Exhibition. Its roots are in agricultural and industry but in the 70s it began to change into the more cosmopolitan attraction that the CNE is today.

Conklin Shows won the contract for rides and games in the 1930’s which they ran until a couple of years ago when they amalgamated with another company. The historic grandstand was always a big draw as popular musical acts played there and the price on entry included admission to the Ex. I remember seeing Supertramp, Styx, Madonna and Simon and Garfunkel all during summers shows at the Grandstand. Sadly it was torn down a few years back.

Ferris Wheel - photo courtesey
Ferris Wheel – photo courtesey

The CNE permanently designated grounds are huge and right on the waterfront next to Ontario Place. The general admission is a reasonable at 14 bucks for adults and 10 for children, but there are often discount days, and free tickets for kids are passed out in the schools each year. Considering that this also includes entry to Ontario place it is still a good deal. Rides and certain activities are extra at both places. I always find that there are enough free shows and exhibits and the CNE to keep busy for morning until night.

These days, the Rising Star singing competition and the IAMS SuperDogs show are extremely popular. They are also nightly song and dance performances at the bandshell. In the large buildings, vendors sell wares from all over the world and give demonstrations of the latest gadgets.

Free samples were always a mainstay of the CNE–in the good old days my friends and I used to win bags of chocolate chip cookies by participating in the A& P quiz show. I haven’t seen that type of thing in recent years, but now there are lots of giveaways, like razors, soccer balls or shampoo. And tastes of Tiny Tim donuts are always sampled in the food building.

Bumper cars
Bumper cars

Speaking of food–one can’t go to the CNE Ex without indulging in some typical carnival treats. My favourite is the waffle ice-cream sandwich. The food building has a myriad of choices from spaghetti for a dollar right up to foods of the world. Greek, Italian, Jamaican, Israeli-they are all represented–after all the CNE takes place in multicultural Toronto.

Many people come to the Toronto Exhibition Grounds just to see the International Air Show during the last three days of the CNE, which traditionally starts in mid-August, and ends on Labour Day. Other 2007 highlights included a Broadway themed Aerial Acrobatics & Ice Skating Show, and Dueling Human Cannonballs: David “The Bullet” Smith Jr. & his sister, Jennifer.

There is also a casino onsite at the CNE and the well-attended midway,  where the games hucksters try to convince every person who walks by to give it a try and the varied rides light up beautifully at night.

Roller coaster - photo courtesy of
Roller coaster – photo courtesy of

Some say the Ex has become more commercial and let go of much of her agriculture roots. There is still a farm building where you can see eggs being laid, and pat pigs and sheep. As well, horse aficionados can watch their favourite breeds compete at the horse palace. However, most of the space that was once devoted to innovation has been given to stores wanting to move their excess inventory.

I was impressed to see the face of the future while touring The Sustainable Condo, a full-size display suite, which demonstrates how human comfort and environmental responsibility can be achieved by combining smart, innovative design with state-of-the-art green building technologies, materials and products. The condo sported green roofs, hot water recovery systems, infloor heating and cooling, and raw wool carpeting,
One of our favourite new traditions at the CNE is that every day there is a Mardi Gras style parade that moves throughout the grounds and they throw beads just like in Louisiana.

Everybody goes to the fair!
Everybody goes to the fair!

What fun my son and I had chasing the floats and catching strings of pretty coloured beads. The children’s area is great place to take kids as it is always buzzing with activities such as pre-teen style shows where kids can participate and win prizes.

However it changes–the Ex will always be a tradition for me and my family. I feel the history of the past 125 + plus years when I am there. There is memorabilia on display and this year my son and I took our photo while sitting on a car from the Flyer– one of the CNE’s oldest and most famous rides that eventually had to be taken down due to age. For a moment… I felt like I was 16 again.

For More Info:

City of Toronto
Official web site:

Canadian National Exhibition — CNE:

Copyright  2007 by Neilia Sherman. Published December 1, 2007.  All Rights Reserved. Fireworks & roller coaster photos courtesy

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