Postering the Canadian National Exhibition
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Postering the Canadian National Exhibition

From kitschy nostalgia to Group of Seven artwork, a look back at more than a century of CNE posters.

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.