Let’s GO To the Ex: The History of The Canadian National Exhibition

When the summer winds down, it is time for the “Ex.” The Ex is a large fair that takes place in Toronto each year. What is now a place full of happiness was once a place of horror.

Founded in 1879, the Ex was originally known as the Canadian Industrial Exhibition. This is where people would flock to see all the latest and greatest in technology. However, several years earlier it was the site of bloody combat: The Battle of York. This battle was the only time in history that the U.S. has ever attacked Canada. It all started on April 27th 1813 when the Americans Crossed over on Lake Ontario and hid out on what was known as “The Spit” and fought their way over to what is now Exhibition Place. But this was not to stop the Canadians. In an act of diversion, a decision was made to blow up the gun powder magazine. Meanwhile, the Americans were closing in on Fort Rouille, a fur trading post on the shore of Lake Ontario, when suddenly “Bang!” The gun powder magazine at Fort York was blown up destroying half of the Canadian military and three quarters of the American military. The remaining American soldiers retreated back to the U.S. and The Americans never attacked York again.

One stormy night around the turn of the century, a luxury cruise ship was docked just on the banks of the Exhibition grounds when suddenly a fire broke out killing just about everyone on board. The Exhibition’s flower building was now turned into a make-shift morgue. Sadly, because the bodies were so badly burnt many of them were unable to be identified.

During World War Two, the Ex was once again drawn into the war effort and was used as a recruiting site for new soldiers. The horse palace building was turned into a barracks housing both soliders and horses. This was the only time the Ex was closed to the public.

The Ex has played host to many celebrities at the famous Grand Stand such as Neil Diamond and Donny Osmond and still continues to showcase brand new talent each year.

If you are tired of the Ex’s Midway, why not take a little stroll just past the new band shell to Toronto’s oldest building, Scadding Cabin. Built in 1794, the cabin was originally located beside the Don River where the Don Valley Parkway and Queen Street meet today. The cabin was moved to the site the same year that the CNE opened. How the building was moved remains a mystery because there were no trailers large enough to carry the building. The only other option would be to float the logs down the Don River into lake Ontario down to the CNE. Perhaps we will never really know how it got there but thanks to the York Pioneer Society, we can still enjoy all its charm today.

So the next time you are down at the CNE, take a moment to remember all the events both good and bad that helped make the CNE what it is today.

SOURCE: www.cnearchives.com/