The Canadian National Exhibition opens this week, bringing with it nearly 130 years of tradition, from its beginnings as an industrial showcase to its current role as a signal that summer is drawing to a close. Today’s pair of ads provide a glimpse of what the Ex was like on the cusp of World War II, before it was closed for wartime activities.
The “new amusement area” touted in 1937 proved significant, as it marked the beginning of the CNE’s long relationship with James “Patty” Conklin and the Conklin organization (now folded into the North American Midway Entertainment following several mergers in the carny world). The first year of the contract was not lucrative for Conklin or the CNE due to a polio epidemic that struck the city. Parents were urged to keep their children away from the fair to lower the risk of transmission. The effect was short-lived, as attendance bounced back by the turn of the decade.
That Toronto was still firmly tied to the British Empire is evident in both ads. George VI’s coronation in 1937 is duly noted, with that year’s nightly fireworks show dedicated to the onward march of Britannia. For 1939, note the placement of the pictures of the British exhibits and the promise of “two famous English bands.” No comment for the 48 groups from elsewhere.
The swing era was in full bloom by 1939, with a highly impressive slate of big bands that year. American saxophonist Glen Gray’s group earned its name, the Casa Loma Orchestra, after a residency at the Toronto landmark during its brief phase as a hotel in the late 1920s.
Several of these bands were signed to RCA Victor records, whose corporate parent showcased the future with its television display even though Toronto was 13 years away from its first station. Another RCA division, NBC, launched its TV broadcasting service in April at the continent’s largest exhibition of the year, the New York World’s Fair.
After the 1941 edition of the CNE, the grounds were turned over to the military for training purposes, with the fair put on hiatus until 1947.
Sources: National Home Monthly, August 1937 (left), August 1939 (right)
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