Poster, 1919. Art by J.E. H. McDonald. Canadian National Exhibition Archives.
Beyond being the first post-First World War fair, the highlight of the 1919 edition of the CNE may have been the presence of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor), who formally opened the festivities on February 25. The Prince had spent the year touring Great Britain and Canada, demonstrating masterful PR skills that Piers Brendon describes in the Penguin Monarchs series:
Edward had a genuine, if somewhat woolly, sympathy for the poor and the dispossessed. He cared especially about ex-servicemen and took a particular interest in housing conditions. Moreover, he learned to communicate his concerns in excellent impromptu speeches. Where royalty had previously smiled and waved de haut en bas, Edward stepped down from his pedestal. He mixed freely, talked informally and shook myriad hands, a gesture he described as pump-handling.
Simpsons ad, Toronto Star, August 23, 1919.
While visiting Canada, the Prince felt it was critical to avoid condescension or pomposity. The tour across the country was envisioned by British prime minister David Lloyd George as a way to strengthen imperial pride. The trip was a success, increasing the Prince’s self-confidence and his impatience with stuffy, over-formalized protocols.
The Prince of Wales, August 25, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 15895.
The World described the effect of his presence:
Right from his entry to the grounds yesterday the prince gave the impression that he was one of themselves. He knew they wanted to get as good a glimpse as they could; and without seeking the limelight in the ordinary acceptation of the word, he gave the people every opportunity of seeing him fair and square. And the public realized it and liked it. Those who had any doubts that a Toronto crowd or a Canadian crowd could not cheer had these removed yesterday. The prince had a tremendous ovation everywhere he went–an unmistakable token of the affection of all the people.
The Canadian National Exhibition 1879-1920 (Toronto: T.H. Best, 1920).
Following an introduction by Ontario premier Sir William Hearst, the Prince spoke of the city’s strong British ties, praising a sense of loyalty to the crown stretching back to the United Empire Loyalists. The prince said that he was delighted to visit Toronto after all he had heard about the city from Canadian soldiers. “It seemed to me that a lot of them came from this great city, and I know no finer solders or better friends.”
Prince of Wales at Canadian National Exhibition, 1919. Photo by Reginald Symonds Timmis. Toronto Public Library.
The Prince reflected on the province’s contributions to the war, before concluding that “a splendid future awaits you as a great self-governing nation, with British institutions, British ideals, and undiminished loyalty to the British commonwealth and crown.”
He also promised that he would do his best “to be worthy of Canada’s friendship and of Canada’s trust,” a vow which would be tested by the abdication crisis of 1936 and his actions in the years that followed.
Model of the Princes’ Gates, 1926. Photo by Pringle & Booth. Toronto Public Library, X65-196.
In the early 1920s, the CNE commissioned a plan by the architectural firm Chapman and Oxley to expand and revamp the grounds, which will be discussed more in the next installment. Among its key elements was a grand new eastern entrance leading into an “Empire Court” surrounded by new buildings. This entrance evolved into a grand stone and concrete gate with nine columns representing the Canadian provinces at the time, topped with a winged angel of victory.
Originally the entrance, which would be ready for the 1927 CNE, was to be named “The Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gates” to mark the 60th anniversary of Canadian confederation. This was scrapped in early August 1927 in favour of “Princes’ Gates” as officials began negotiations to have the Prince of Wales and his younger brother Prince George (later the Duke of Kent) formally open the entrance during their visit to the city.
The Prince of Wales greeting war veterans, 1927. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0123763f.
Several weeks before the fair opened, the Princes attended an August 7 memorial service on the grounds for First World War servicemen. The Prince of Wales led the 50,000 attendees in readings from the Book of Revelations.
Edward, Prince of Wales, at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8140.
After crossing the country, the princes returned to officially dedicate the Princes’ Gates on August 30, 1927. Despite rain, the ribbon-cutting ceremony began shortly after the princes arrived at 10:45 a.m. Stepping back to look at the arch, the Prince of Wales noted “it’s very fine, isn’t it?”
Sketch of the Princes’ Gates by Owen Staples, circa 1928. Toronto Public Library.
Following the ceremony, the princes observed a parade of war veterans. They signed a bible presented by, in the unfortunate phrasing of the Star, “a group of the first Canadians, swarthy councillors from the Tuscarora reserve near Brantford.” The tome had previously been signed by several members of the royal family, including their father King George V.
Next: The Roaring 20s.
Sources: Edward VIII by Piers Brendon (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2016); Unbuilt Toronto by Mark Osbaldeston (Toronto: Dundurn, 2008); the August 6, 1927, August 8, 1927 edition of the Globe; the August 30, 1927 edition of the Toronto Star; the August 30, 1927 edition of the Telegram; and the August 26, 1919 edition of the Toronto World.