<b>Prize list program, 1884.</b><br><br />
In an editorial published on September 12, 1884, the <i>Mail</i> praised the rapid growth of the fair, then known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition: “When first mooted, an annual exhibition at Toronto was not regarded by everybody as a possibility…Toronto is a large city. It is not the Toronto of thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. Besides, it is backed by a grand agricultural district, and it is the point to which all the railways in the province converge. As a business centre too, it has immense advantages. All these things went to show that an annual exhibition could be made a success. And the Industrial has been a success to a degree far beyond the expectations of its most sanguine friends. Opened at a time when the Exhibition buildings were small and few in number, and when the grounds were but a bare common, it has gradually, by means of an expenditure both liberal and wise, developed probably the finest exhibition plant on the continent.”<br />
<b>Prize list program, 1885. </b><br><br />
The Crystal Palace stood as the fair’s focal point from its launch in 1879 until it was destroyed by fire in 1906. Its replacement was the Horticulture Building, which is currently occupied by Muzik.<br />
<b>Program cover, 1887. </b><br><br />
Besides offering $30,000 worth of prizes, the 1887 edition of the fair celebrated Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. Governor-General <a href="http://torontoist.com/2013/02/historicist-the-trouble-with-obrien/">Lord Lansdowne</a> officially opened the festivities on September 6, 1887 by pressing a button which activated a steam whistle in the Machinery Hall. That year also saw the installation of the still-standing obelisk commemorating the site of <a href="http://www.torontohistory.org/Pages/Fort_Rouille1.html">Fort Rouille</a>. <br />
<b>Poster, 1907. Art by “J.D.K.” </b><br><br />
Around this time the fair’s name shifted to its current moniker. Perhaps the Mercury-esque figure represented the CNE’s hopes for a swift recovery from an October 1906 fire which destroyed the cattle sheds, the grandstand, and the Crystal Palace. <br />
<b>Poster, 1914. Art by Arthur Henry Hider. </b><br><br />
Unfortunately, hopes for a swift end to the recent outbreak of hostilities in Europe were futile. Arthur Henry Hider (1870-1952) was a commercial artist who created at least eight posters for the fair between 1906 and 1917. One of his steady gigs was his annual painting of the winning horse at the Queen’s Plate—as <i>Globe and Mail</i> columnist J.V. McAree once observed, Hider’s horse portraits were “found in nearly every bar in Canada.”<br />
<b>Poster, 1917. Art by Arthur Henry Hider. </b><br><br />
While the 50th anniversary of Confederation should have been cause for grand celebrations, the subdued colours of this poster reflect the downcast mood of the country as the First World War dragged on. <br />
<b>Poster, 1920. Art by Franklin Carmichael. </b><br><br />
The first two posters commissioned after the First World War utilized the talents of members of the Group of Seven: <a href="http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=3428">J.E.H MacDonald</a> in <a href="http://torontoist.com/2013/08/lets-go-to-the-ex-for-the-134th-time/20130813poster1919/?include=270041,270042,270045,270046,270047,270048,270049,270050,270051,270053,270055,270056,270057,270058,270062,270059,270061,270063,270064,270065,270066,270067,270068,270069,270071,270072,270073,270074">1919</a>, and <a href="http://www.mcmichael.com/collection/seven/carmichael.cfm">Franklin Carmichael</a> in 1920. The shadow of the war still hung over the fair, as 1920’s opening ceremony was dedicated to veterans. According to the <i>World</i>, Victoria Cross recipients were greeted with a “tornado of clapping.” <br />
<b>Poster, 1927. Art believed to be by Stanley F. Turner. </b><br><br />
The Princes’ Gates, which were dedicated by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and Prince George (later the Duke of Kent) on August 30, 1927, share the spotlight with celebrations of Canada’s 60th birthday. Stanley F. Turner (1883-1953) was known for his illustrated maps for clients ranging from <a href="http://www.georgeglazer.com/maps/pictorialmap/canada.html">Canadian Pacific Railway</a> to the <i>Globe and Mail</i>.<br />
<b>Poster, 1933. Art by J. Laget. </b><br><br />
“Power, Courage, Faith.” Three attributes many relied on to make it through the depths of the Great Depression. On the eve of the fair, the Canadian branch of Wrigley gum announced a plan to bring 500 children from across the province for an all-expenses paid two-day visit to the CNE. “This is not an advertising stunt,” the company declared. “Knowing the beneficial results of the Canadian National Exhibition to children, it is our sincere desire to bring these children for the good it would do them.”<br />
<b>Poster, 1936. Art by Fred Finley. </b><br><br />
As hopes for an economic recovery were celebrated, a CNE icon opened in 1936: the Art Deco-styled Bandshell. Designed by firm of Craig & Madill (whose other works included Palace Pier), the structure was designed to evoke the Hollywood Bowl. <br />
<b>Poster, 1939. </b><br><br />
Despite the focus on communications and transportation (including an early demonstration of television), the mood of the fair was marred by Canada’s entry into the Second World War on September 3, 1939.<br />
<b>Program cover, 1941. Art by Grant Macdonald. </b><br><br />
The towering figure of a Canadian male rolling up his sleeves to provide our country’s “answer” to the Axis was modelled on Torontonian J.C. Cockburn. The <i>Toronto Star</i> offered prints at the fair to benefit the Red Cross British Bomb Victims’ Fund. Macdonald (1909-1987, <a href="http://gci.wrdsb.ca/sites/gci.wrdsb.ca/files/Grant%20MacDonald.pdf">PDF</a>) worked as a war artist for the navy then spent a decade sketching actors for the Stratford Festival. <br />
Flipping through more than a century of posters and program covers at the Canadian National Exhibition Archives gives a sense of the changing moods of Toronto: we find devotion to the Crown and the British Empire, optimism about the bright future offered by technology, and desire for the suburban family dream.
The archives include around 200 posters retained by the CNE or donated by past visitors. Especially during the first half of the 20th century, the CNE commissioned some of Toronto’s top commercial artists, including members of the Group of Seven, to produce images that would draw visitors to the fair. The posters conformed to artistic trends of their era—many from the 1920s and ’30s, for example, resemble political artwork, while some of the wartime posters wouldn’t have looked out of place in a recruitment office. (In decades past, art was a crucial component of the Ex via its gallery, which combined displays of significant historical works with established and rising contemporary talent.)
Strolling through the archives evokes a sense of discovery and wonder the CNE has always conveyed. Beyond the posters, you may come across a television given away during the 1950s and returned decades later by the family that won it, a section of a ride once owned by Mel Lastman, or the death mask of former CNE general manager Dr. J.O. Orr.
As the August 15 opening of the 135th Canadian National Exhibition approaches, check out the gallery of posters and program covers that celebrate the fair.
Additional material from the August 25, 1933 edition of the Globe; the June 15, 1949 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 12, 1884 and September 7, 1887 editions of the Toronto Daily Mail; the June 28, 1941 edition of Star Weekly; and the August 30, 1920 edition of the Toronto World. All images courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives.