Category Archives: CNE Grandstand Toronto,

Toronto’s Lost CNE

“Toronto’s Lost CNE” refers to structures and features that over the past decades have been demolished or discontinued. Though I remain a fan of the Canadian National Exhibition and attempt to attend it each year, it is on these occasions that I find myself gazing around the grounds and recalling the many features of the annual late-summer fair that have disappeared.

                                   The Shell Tower

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CNE’s Shell Tower depicted on a postcard (left), and a photo of the tower (right) from  the Canada Archives, a 052968

                         1955. Tor Lib. pictures-r-2743[1]

              The Shell Tower in 1955, Toronto Public Library, r-2743

The Shell Tower was built by the Shell Oil Company in 1955, its architect George Robb. Located on Princess Boulevard, it was a glass and steel structure, almost 12 storeys in height (120’), containing an observation deck near the top. Above the observation deck was a large clock, visible from anywhere within the CNE grounds. As a teenager, each year I climbed to its summit via the stairs inside the glass-enclosed stairwells. From the top, there was a magnificent view of the CNE grounds, the lake, and the downtown skyline. When the tower was renamed the Bulova Tower, the clock was converted to digital, one of the first in the city. The tower was demolished in 1985 to accommodate the Indy race track.


Photo taken from the top of the Shell Tower in 1957. The camera is facing north toward the Horse Palace and the Coliseum (now the Ricoh Coliseum), which today, on its east side, is attached to the Direct Energy Centre.

                          The CNE Grandstand


This view of the CNE Grandstand was also taken in 1957, from the top of the Shell Tower. Visible are the stage, background sets, and props for the grandstand show. A section of the midway is in the foreground.

The CNE Grandstand was built in 1948, its architects Morani and Morris. The design won an architectural silver prize in 1950. Its massive steel-truss roof protected the crowds from the sun and the rain during grandstand performances and other events, such as stock car races. Its north facade possessed red bricks and limestone, creating a degree of architectural elegance. The shows presented on the grandstand’s stage, held every evening during the run of the Ex, were magnificent in scale as they often featured a cast of over 1500. The orchestra was conducted by Howard Cable from 1953 until 1968. On the ground floor of the grandstand’s north side there was a Stoodleigh Restaurant. Unfortunately, the stadium was demolished in 1999.

   1950s, CNE archives  ad68fb7f-1f51-43c2-aa3b-ecd2a6f1f526[1]

The north facade of the CNE Grandstand in the 1950s. CNE Archives, ad68fb7f-1f51-43o2

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A view of the stage during a grandstand show in the 1950s, Canada Archives, a052935-v8

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Another view of the stage during an evening CNE grandstand show. Canada Archives, a05926-v8

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The grandstand in 1976, when it was a football and baseball stadium. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl10138, id 0013

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                 Photo of the grandstand taken in 1995.

                The Manufacturers Building.

Crowds at C.N.E., Manufacturer's Building in background – 1908

Crowds in front of the Manufacturers Building in 1908, Toronto Archives, S0409, item 0043.


This photo was taken in 1958, from the north side of the Gooderham Fountain, the Manufacturers Building visible in the background. The Manufacturers Building opened in 1903, its architect George W. Guinlock, who also designed the Horticulture (now the Muzik Club), and the Art and Crafts Buildings (now Medieval Times), as well as the CNE Fire and Police Stations. The Manufacturers Building was located to the east of the Ontario Government Building (now The Liberty Grand). Although it was only one-storey in height, its soaring roof, supported by structural steel, created the illusion of a much taller structure. It displayed household appliances and other manufactured products, many of them first seen by Torontonians in this building. Two examples are RCA Victor televisions in 1939 and early-day microwave ovens in 1958. Displays were eventually expanded to include the manufactured goods of foreign countries. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1961.

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The Manufacturers Building following the fire in 1961, the Ontario Government Building (now the Liberty Grand) is to the west of it (right-hand side). Photo from the Toronto Public Library, 0000630.

                 The Gooderham Fountain

Fonds 1244, Item 269

The Gooderham Fountain in 1926, Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 0269.

The Gooderham Fountain was built in 1911. It is thought to have been designed by George W. Guinlock, the architect of many buildings on the CNE grounds. The fountain was inspired by those in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square. The fountain was named after George W. Gooderham, a prominent industrialist, president of the CNE from 1909 to 1911. It was located at the western side of the Ex, near the Horticultural Building. The fountain was a favourite meeting place for visitors who attended the CNE, and for Torontonians, was the origin of the expression, “Meet me at the fountain.” The Gooderham Fountain was demolished in 1958 and replaced by the Princess Margaret Fountain. It was officially opened by HRH in 1958, during her royal tour of Canada.  

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The Gooderham Fountain in 1928, Toronto Public Library, r- 4190.

                          The CNE Flag Pole

Fonds 1244, Item 631B   Fonds 1244, Item 631A

The flag pole at the Ex in 1930 (left-hand photo), Toronto Archives F1244, Item 0631b, and its installation (right-hand photo), Toronto Archives F1244, Item 0631a

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The base of the flagpole in 1936, the Horticultural Building (now Muzik) in the background. Toronto Archives, F 1231, Item 1451 

The flag pole depicted in the above photos was donated to the CNE by J. G. Robson. The magnificent Douglas Fir, hewn from the forests on Vancouver Island, was 184 feet (56 metres) tall after it was trimmed. Shipped from British Columbia via the Panama Canal, it was brought to Toronto through the St. Lawrence River. At its base, it was 36 inches in diameter. Because it required time to cure the wood, it was not installed at the CNE until 1930. In that year, it claimed to be the world’s largest flag pole.

It was replaced in June, 1977 by a pole of British Columbia redwood, shipped to Toronto on three flatbed rail cars. It was 196 feet (60 metres) tall, and again, was said to be the world’s tallest. However, eventually it began to rot and unfortunately it was removed from the grounds.

Information about the 1977-flag pole: Mike Filey

                            Automotive Shows

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The Automotive Show in 1939, in the Automotive Building. Canada Archives, a0528897-v8

The Automotive Building, built in 1929, survives to this day. However, it has been rebuilt and is now a convention facility named the Allstream Centre. Until the 1960s, each year during the run of the CNE it housed the automotive show, which featured the latest models of cars for that year. As a boy, I remember visiting it. I never tired of getting behind the wheel of the shiny new cars and playing with the knobs and buttons on the dashboard. I dreamt of being of sufficient age to qualify for a driver’s license. The auto show was one of the most popular features of the Ex.  

   Horse, Dairy and Agricultural Shows and Contests

Beef cattle, 1980s, Ont. Archives  I0004457[1]  Elsie the Cow, 1941, Ont. A. I0011011[1]

Beef cattle at the CNE in the 1980s, Ontario Archives 10004457 (left-hand photo) and Borden Dairies’ “Elsie the Cow” in 1941, Ontario Archives 10011011 (right-hand photo)

After the Ex opened in 1879, for many years it featured both industrial and agricultural products. In the Horse Palace and Coliseum there were farm animals and horse shows. As well, there were judged competitions of homemade jams, jellies, preserves etc. I remember the horse shows in the Coliseum and of course, Borden Dairy’s advertisements that featured “Elsie the Cow.”

                 Ontario Government Building

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The Ontario Government Building on August 13, 1929. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 7109.

The Ontario Government Building was constructed in 1926 to showcase exhibitions of the Ontario Government. Today, it is no longer open as part of the Ex as it is occupied by the Liberty Grand. I remember visiting the building when I was a boy, and also as a teenager. In its central courtyard there were many large aquariums containing the species of fish native to Ontario. There were also colourful over-sized representations of the fictional lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, and Babe, his Blue Ox.


Paul Bunyan the lumberjack, famous in American folklore. Photo taken in 1958 in the interior courtyard of the Ontario Government Building.


Paul Bunyan’s Babe, the Blue Ox, in the courtyard of the Government Building in 1958.

                                     Trout Fishing


         Trout fishing in the Coliseum at the CNE in 1958.

                 The Flyer, the Rollercoaster at the CNE


This photo of the Flyer at the CNE was taken with a 35mm Kodak Pony camera in 1958, from the top of the Shell Tower. Built in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Flyer was advertised as the “fastest in the world,” as it reached speeds of up to 65 miles an hour. It was 2612 feet in length and 62 feet in height, capable of carrying over 26,000 passengers a day. I remember riding the Flyer and experiencing the thrill of the downward plunge from the tallest section of the structure. Unfortunately, as technology and tastes of the public changed, the Flyer was viewed as tame. It was demolished in June 1992, after it failed the safety tests. However, for several decades, it was the  main “thriller” of the CNE midway. Over 9 million passengers enjoyed the ride during the years it operated.  (information from CNE Archives)

Series 1465, File 129, Item 12

The CNE’s roller coaster (the Flyer) in 1976, the Bulova (Shell) Tower to the right of it. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl0129, id 0012. 

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For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It includes anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, AGO Gift Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)


Published by Dundurn Press, this book tells the story of 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about the grand old theatres.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for  a link to order this book:


                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. For further information follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.




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Toronto’s heritage buildings and sites on


Below are links to posts about Toronto’s heritage sites that have appeared on the blog,, since it commenced in 2011.

Toronto’s Maple Leaf Baseball Stadium

Brunswick House on Bloor Street West, now closed

Centre Island’s lost village

Demolition of the Westinghouse building on King Street West

Walker House Hotel at Front and York Streets, demolished 1976

Cyclorama on Front Street, demolished 1976

The Toronto Star Building on King Street West

Fond Memories of A&A Records on Yonge Street

Memories of Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street

Toronto’s old Land Registry Building (demolished)

The Gordon House on Clarence Square, one of Toronto’s lost mansions

Old Toronto Star Building on King Street West.

The Grand Opera House on Adelaide St. West

The High Park Mineral Baths

The old Dufferin Gates at the CNE

Toronto’s first brick house, built by Quetton St. George

Toronto’s Old Registry Office Building

Centre Island’s Lost Village

Arcadian Court Restaurant in Simpsons

Toronto’s Old Customs Houses

Grand Opera House on Adelaide St. West

Palace Pier Ballroom and Amusement Centre on Lakeshore, on West bank of the Humber River

Cawthra House—Toronto’s most historic mansion at Bay and King Streets (demolished)

Ford Hotel at Bay and Dundas (demolished)

Dufferin Gates of the CNE (demolished)

Quetton St. George’s mansion on King Street, now demolished

Mineral Baths (swimming pools) on Bloor Street opposite High Park

Upper Canada College’s first campus on Russell Square on King Street West

Upper Canada College’s former boarding house at Duncan and Adelaide Street

St. Patrick’s Market on Queen West – the first market buildings

Armouries on University Avenue (demolished)

Trinity College that once existed in Trinity Bellwoods Park

Hanlan’s Hotel on the Toronto Islands (Hanlan’s Point) now demolished

The Palace, the mansion of John Strachan (demolished)

Holland House—one of Toronto’s lost mansions (demolished)

Crystal Palace of the CNE (demolished) —now the site of the Muzik nightclub

Queen’s Hotel (demolished) —historic hotel on Front Street

CNE Grandstand (demolished) —History of

Maple Leaf Stadium (demolished) at Bathurst and Front Streets

Eaton’s old Queen Street Store at Queen and Yonge Streets (demolished)

Bank –Toronto’s First—Bank of Upper Canada (demolished)

Post Office—Toronto’s First

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Dundas Street.

Ontario’s Fourth Legislative Assembly

Ontario’s First and Second Legislative Buildings

Old Mill Restaurant in the Humber Valley

Montgomery’s Inn at Dundas West and Islington Avenue

Cecil Street Community Centre near Spadina Avenue and Cecil Street

Former Ryerson Press Building (now Bell Media) at 299 Queen Street, at Queen and John Streets

Former Bank of Toronto Building at 205 Yonge Street, opposite the Eaton Centre

Buildings at 441-443 Queen Street, west of Spadina Avenue

History of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

Boer War monument at Queen West and University Avenue

History of Toronto’s CN Tower

Gurney Stove Foundry at King West and Brant Streets

Historic Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street

Former Bank of Montreal at Queen and Yonge Streets, now a subway entrance and coffee shop

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

Toronto’s Union Station of today that opened in 1927

Old Fort York

19th-century Bay and Gable house at 64 Spadina Avenue

Old houses hidden behind 58-60 Spadina Avenue 

Historic Gale Building at 24-30 Spadina Avenue

Commercial block at 654-672 Queen West containing shops

Warehouse loft at 80 Spadina Avenue

The Systems Building at 40-46 Spadina Avenue

The Steele Briggs Warehouse at 49 Spadina Avenue

The building at Queen and Portland Streets, which once was a bank of Montreal

The 1850s buildings at 150-154 King Street East and Jarvis Streets

The Manufacturers Building at 312 Adelaide St. West

The old Eaton’s College Street (College Park and the Carlu)

The John Kay (Wood Gundy) Building at 11 Adelaide St. West

The Grange (AGO)

The Eclipse Building at 322 King Street West

The Toronto Normal School on Gould Street

The Capitol Building at 366 Adelaide Street West, near Spadina

The Reid Building at 266-270 King Street West

Mackenzie House on Bond Street

Colborne Lodge in High Park

The Church of the Redeemer at Bloor West and Avenue Road

The Anderson Building at 284 King Street West

The Lumsden Building at Yonge and Adelaide Street East

The Gooderham (Flatiron) Building at Wellington and Front Streets East

The Sick Children’s Hospital on University Avenue

St. James Cathedral at King St. East and Church St.

The E.W. Gillett Building at 276 Queen King St. West

The Oddfellows Temple at the corner of Yonge and College Streets

The Birkbeck Building at 8-18 Adelaide Street East

The Toronto Seventh Post Office at 10 Toronto St.

Former hotel at Bay and Elm streets

The 1881 block of shops on Queen near Spadina

The stone archway on Yonge Street, south of Carlton Street

The former St. Patrick’s Market on Queen West, now the City Market

The Brooke Building (three shops) at King East and Jarvis streets.

The old Work House at 87 Elm Street, an historic structure from the 19th century.

The building on the northwest corner of Yonge and Queen Street.

The former student residence of Upper Canada College, built in 1833, at 22 Duncan Street, at the corner of Adelaide streets.

Church of the Holy Trinity beside the Eaton Centre

The former site of the “Silver Snail” comic store at 367 Queen Street West.

The Toronto Club at 107 Wellington, built 1888,  at the corner of York Street. 

The YMCA at 18 Elm Street, built in 1890, now the Elmwood Club.

The old St. George’s Hall at 14 Elm Street, now the Arts and Letters Club.

The 1860s houses on Elm St. (now Barbarian’s Steak House)

The old “Silver Snail” shop on Queen St. West

The north building at the St. Lawrence Market, which is slated to be demolished

The Ellis Building on Adelaide Street near Spadina Ave.

The Heintzman Building on Yonge Street, next to the Elgin Theatre

The tall narrow building at 242 Yonge Street, south of Dundas

Toronto’s first Reference Library at College and St. George Streets.

The Commodore Building at 315-317 Adelaide St. West

The Graphic Arts Building (condo) on Richmond Street

The Art Deco Victory Building on Richmond Street

The Concourse Building on Adelaide Street

The old Bank of Commerce at 197 Yonge Street

The Traders Bank on Yonge Street—the city’s second skyscraper

Toronto’s old Union Station on Front Street, built in 1884

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe Streets.

The row houses on Glasgow Street, near Spadina and College Streets

The bank at Queen and Simcoe that resembles a Greek temple

The cenotaph at Toronto’s Old City Hall

The magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral at King East and Church Streets

St. Stanislaus Koska RC Church on Denison Avenue, north of Queen West

The historical St. Mary’s Church at Adelaide and Bathurst Streets

The Bishop’s (St, Michael’s) Palace on Church Street, Toronto

The Union Building at Simcoe and King Street West

The Ed Mirvish (Pantages, Imperial, Canon) Theatre, a true architectural gem on Toronto’s Yonge Street

The Waverly Hotel on Spadina near College Street.

The Art Deco Bank of Commerce building on King Street West.

The Postal Delivery Building, now the Air Canada Centre (ACC)

The Bellevue Fire Station on College Street

The Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay Streets

Toronto’s old Sunnyside Beach

Toronto’s architectural gems—the Runnymede Library

Spadina Avenue – sinful, spicy and diverse

The Reading Building, a warehouse loft building on Spadina Avenue

The Darling Building on Spadina Avenue

The amazing Fashion Building on Spadina Avenue

Toronto’s architectural gems – the Tower Building at Spadina and Adelaide Street

The Balfour Building at 119 Spadina Avenue

The Robertson Building at 215 Spadina that houses the Dark Horse Espresso Bar

An architectural gem – Grossman’s Tavern at Spadina and Cecil Streets

History of the house that contains the Paul Magder Fur Shop at 202 Spadina

An important historic building that disappeared from the northeast corner of Spadina and College

Historic bank building on northeast corner of Spadina and Queen West

History of the Backpackers’ Hotel at King and Spadina

Hamburger corner – Spadina and Queen Streets

Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent

The Dragon City Mall on the southwest corner of Dundas and Spadina

Buildings on the west side of Spadina a short distance north of Queen Street.

History of the site of the Mcdonalds on northwest corner of Queen and Spadina

A former mansion at 235 Spadina that is now almost hidden from view.


Military hero of the War of 1812 lived near corner of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West.

The Art Deco bus terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets.

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The old Dominion Bank Building at King and Yonge Street

The Canada Life Building on University and Queen Street West.

Campbell House at the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue

A study of Osgoode Hall

Toronto’s first City Hall, now a part of the St. Lawrence Market

Toronto’s Draper Street, a time-tunnel into the 19th century

The Black Bull Tavern at Queen and Soho Streets, established in 1822

History of the 1867 fence around Osgoode Hall on Queen Street West, near York Street

Gathering around the radio as a child in the 1940s

The opening of the University Theatre on Bloor Street, west of Bay St.

122 persons perish in the Noronic Disaster on Toronto’s waterfront in 1949

Historic Victoria Memorial Square where Toronto’s first cemetery was located, now hidden amid the Entertainment District

Visiting one of Toronto’s best preserved 19th-century streets-Willcocks Avenue

The 1930s Water Maintenance Building on Brant Street, north of St. Andrew’s Park

Toronto’s architectural gems-photos of the Old City from a book published by the city in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems – the bank on the northeast corner of Queen West and Spadina

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The St. Lawrence Hall on King Street

Toronto’s streetcars through the past decades

History of Trinity Bellwoods Park

A history of Toronto’s famous ferry boats to the Toronto Islands

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view the post that contains a list of Toronto’s old movie houses and information about them:


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Toronto’s CNE Grandstand and Baseball Stadium


The CNE Grandstand in 1956, taken with Kodachrome film with my 35mm Kodak Pony camera from the top of the Ferris Wheel on the midway.

Toronto’s CNE Stadium creates different memories for different people, depending on whether a person remembers it as a baseball stadium, or as a grandstand where Canada’s most spectacular stage shows were held. When the CNE Grandstand performances ended in 1968, it was an indications that the annual fair was no longer the most important late-summer event in Toronto. The CNE continues to attract over a million visitors annually, more than any other fair in Canada, including the Calgary Stampede. However, its prominence in the life of the city has greatly diminished. Canada’s Wonderland, Rogers Stadium and the Ripley Aquarium are a few of the entertainment venues that now compete with the CNE.

Today, it is difficult to conceive of a world without the internet—Facebook, Twitter and blogging. When I was a boy, smart phones were confined to science fiction where the comic-book hero Dick Tracy sported a 2-way wrist-radio that allowed him to transmit messages. Now, the technology is a reality. However, the CNE commenced long before the era of the internet, at a time when agricultural and industrial fairs were important to disseminate information about the latest horticultural trends and technological advancements.

During the 19th century, fairs were held at various locations throughout the province, Toronto hosting them several times. In April 1878, on land on the north side of King Street West, near Shaw Street, a highly successful one was held, attracting over 100,000 people. It inspired Toronto’s City Council to seek a site for a permanent fair, to be held annually. In 1878, the city leased the western portion of the Garrison Reserve, to the southwest of Fort York. On March 11, 1879, the Provincial Legislature passed “An Act to Incorporate the Industrial Exhibition Association of Toronto,” to allow the city to incorporate a fair.

The first “Industrial Exhibition” opened on September 3, 1879, for one week, the price of admission 25 cents. There were 23 buildings, one of them a grandstand containing 5000 seats. During the next few years, it hosted various events, including horse races, sports, fireworks, livestock judging, and stage shows. The fair was so successful that in 1892, the grandstand was rebuilt and expanded, doubling its capacity to 10,000 seats. The same year, the fair grounds became the first in the world to be electrified, making it possible for the grandstand stage shows to be larger and more extravagant. Another advantage was that they could be held after sunset.

In 1906, the grandstand burnt to the ground.

Fonds 1244, Item 12    

Ruins of the grandstand in November 1906, following the disastrous fire. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item, 0012.

Aug. 9, 1928,  f1231_it1253[1]

The Grandstand that replaced the one that was destroyed by fire in 1906. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1253.

Fonds 1244, Item 1399

Auto race in the grandstand in 1926, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1399.

The architect G. W. Guinlock designed a new stadium for the Industrial Exhibition, which opened in 1907 with a capacity of 16,400 seats. Guinlock also designed the Government Building (now Mediaeval Times), Horticultural Building, Music Building, and the Fire Hall and Police Station. In 1912, the name of the fair was changed to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). During the ensuing years, many of the grandstand stage shows were historical pageants—the “Burning of Rome-Nero,” “Empire Triumphant,” “Dance of the Squaws,” Siege of Lucknow (India) and “The Durbar of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.” The last historical stage show was “Britannia,” performed in 1941. For almost four decades, the grandstand remained the focal point of the CNE, until it burnt in 1946.

The architects Marani and Morris were hired to design another grandstand, the general contractor being Pigott Construction. It contained 20,600 seats. Facing south, it was 800 feet in length, the height of its roof soaring to 75 feet. As well as stage performances, it featured stock car racing, auto polo, rodeos, track and field events, circuses, concerts, and military extravaganzas such as “The Scottish World Tattoo. However, the most spectacular events were the grandstand shows, the largest ever held in Canada. Over 1500 stage performers were involved for a single performance, as well as a large orchestra. 

1950s, CNE archives  ad68fb7f-1f51-43c2-aa3b-ecd2a6f1f526[1] 

View of the north facade of the CNE Grandstand in the 1950s. Photo, CNE Archives


Miss Toronto Beauty Pageant in 1951 in the CNE Stadium, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Item 1696.


Queen Elizabeth in the CNE Grandstand in 1957, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, S1057, Item 4989.

RCMP Musical Ride, 1950s  f1257_s1057_it5746[1]

The RCMP Musical Ride at the CNE Grandstand in the 1950s, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, S 1057, Item 574.

The 1950s and 1960s were the golden age of the CNE Grandstand shows. Shorty after the new grandstand was completed, Leon Leonidoff was hired to produce the shows. He had trained in Canada and after relocating to New York, had a successful career producing  performances at the Radio City Music Hall. Employing his connections, he brought the famous “Rockettes” to the grandstand. He also booked famous American stars, along with their supporting casts, costumes and sets. Almost everything was American. In 1948, he hired the famous and outrageous comedy team—Olsen and Johnson. Many citizens of “Toronto the Good” considered them outrageous, complaining that their jokes were crude. The objections voiced about the comedians created so much free publicity that the grandstand was packed every night. The comedy duo continued at the Ex until 1951.

However, many felt that the grandstand shows should feature more Canadian talent and Jack Arthur was hired to fulfill this mandate. American stars continued to be employed as drawing cards, but the remainder of the casts were Canadian. As well, costumes were supplied locally, by Malabar Limited, and the stage sets were all constructed in Toronto. Jack Arthur’s wife, Midge, trained a group of dancers to replace the “Rockettes.” They were named the “Canadettes,” and were advertised as “the longest line of show girls in the world.” Alan and Blanche Lund, a famous Canadian dance team, created the choreography and the immensely talented Howard Cable took over the musical arrangements. Hugh Hand was the mastermind behind the wondrous fireworks displays.

The grandstand shows became spectacles that showcased Canadian talent, featuring Canadian themes. In 1955, Marilyn Bell  appeared on the stage, as that year she had successfully swam the English Channel. In 1959, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway was the theme. In other shows, Max Ferguson portrayed his self-created character “ old Rawhide.” Celia Frank danced with the National Ballet. Concerts included the opera star Teresa Stratas, and Wally Koster, a star of the TV show, “Cross Canada Hit Parade” performed.

Hollywood stars that appeared during the golden years of the CNE Grandstand shows included Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Roy Rogers, Dale Evens, Bill Cosby and Danny Kaye. Jack Arthur was also responsible for the creation of an enormous moveable stage, at a cost of $500,000. Jack Arthur retired in 1967, and the last great stage show was in 1968. Its theme was “Sea to Sea—The Iron Miracle,” written by Don Herron.

As the dawn of the 1970s approached, the grandstand shows were no more. However, those who attended them will never forget their grandeur.


This photo of a performance at the CNE Grandstand was taken in 1956. It is another photo that was taken in Kodachrome film with my 35mm Kodak Pony camera.

However, the CNE Grandstand’s fame did not end with the termination of its stage shows. In 1959, the seating capacity was expanded by constructing a south stand and a new section of seats. The facility now possessed 12,472 more seats, and it became the home field for the Toronto Argonauts football team. In 1962, the Grey Cup was held in Toronto, with Hamilton and Winnipeg the participating teams. The conditions on the field were so foggy that it could not be verified that the final touchdown was converted, and the the Tiger-Cats lost the game by a single point. The game became known as the “Fog Bowl.” 

In 1975, construction commenced to reconfigure the stadium to accommodate baseball games, the seating capacity now 54,254. In 1976, Toronto received a major league baseball franchise in the East Division of the American League. The team was named the Toronto Blue Jays. They played their first game in the CNE Stadium on April 7, 1977, against the Chicago White Sox. Toronto won the game, the score being 9-5.

However, because the stadium was located close to the lake, weather conditions were unpredictable. Also, there was a desire for a multipurpose stadium. As a result, construction on a new stadium, with a retractable roof, commenced in 1986. The final game played at the CNE was on May 28, 1989, and the Blue Jays moved into the Sky Dome on June 5, 1989. Their first season under the dome was not particularly successful, attracting only 1.7 million fans. However, the Blue Jays went on to win the World Series in 1992 and 1993.

In 1999, the seats at the CNE Stadium were sold and the structure was stripped of anything that might be recycled, only the concrete and steel girders remaining. Explosives were employed to implode the CNE Stadium. A half century of entertainment history ended.

Note. I am grateful for the information contained in: “Once Upon a Century – 100 Year History of the Ex,” by John Robinson, published in 1978 by J. H. Robinson Publishing Limited.


CNE Stadium in the 1980s at the height of its popularity as a baseball venue. Ontario Place is visible in the background.


To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

Recent publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 


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