Through the Years with the Canadian National Exhibition 4: The Prince of Wales and the Princes’ Gates


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Through the Years with the Canadian National Exhibition 3: The First World War


Poster, 1914. Art by Arthur Henry Hider. Canadian National Exhibition Archives.

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 Mail and Empire/Globe and Mail columnist J.V. McAree once observed, Hider’s horse portraits were “found in nearly every bar in Canada.”

After the fair ended, the grounds were turned into a military training complex. Over the first three winters of the war, troops were housed in the larger builders on the grounds, which were converted to barracks. Up to 15,000 soldiers were based in the park, included an American battalion. The CNE continued throughout the war, with plenty of military-themed activities, demonstrations, and displays.

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CNE Midway game featuring caricatures of Kaiser Wilhelm II, between 1914 and 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 880.

Midway games poked fun at the enemy, especially Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

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Canadian Home Journal, August 1915.

While attendance reached  1 million for the first time in 1913, the combined effects of uneasiness over the start of the war, the lack of special offers for train travel, and lousy weather dropped the numbers to 762,000 in 1914. For 1915, railroads revived reduced rates, and the war was a fact of life. “It is to the farmer that Canadian National Exhibition is looking for a largely increased attendance this year,” the Buffalo Express reported, “and the officials are strengthened in their belief that they will turn out in larger numbers than ever before by the demand for space for agricultural exhibits, a sure barometer of conditions in the outside districts.”

In the end, the fair experienced a bit of a rebound, drawing 864,000.

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Canadian Courier, August 28, 1915.

A hint of the 1915 fair’s militaristic flavour from the Star‘s preview:

The war-time note predominates, and although on holiday bent the fair-goer will on every hand be called upon to remember that the nation and Dominion are engaged in the greatest of conflicts. Not only will this be so by reason of the extensive collection of war relics and trophies which the management has at great trouble secured, a collection made more extensive than anticipated by the inclusion of many private collections, but on every turn the scheme of decoration displays prominently in draped groups the flags of the allied nations. On the grandstand he will listen to a wide selection of patriotic music and witness a stirring patriotic spectacle; in the Art Gallery he will see a representative selection from the works of living Belgian artists, and even from the refreshment counters he will be called upon to consume patriotically named ices and invited to slake his thirst with a “K of K” special.

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Sheep judging, circa 1915. Toronto Public Library, S 16-40.

For the all the war-related hoopla, other events, such as agricultural competitions, carried on as normal.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1916.

For the CNE’s 1916 evening spectacle, a replica of the British parliament buildings was built next to the Grandstand. The Federation of the Empire was an ultra-patriotic endeavour featuring 1,200 performers. After an opening bill of vaudeville acts, the show depicted troops from across the British Empire coming together in a wide array of uniforms, mixed in with highland flings and Irish jigs. “The warm applause which greeted the sombre but workman-like khaki,” the Star observed, “showed that the crowd appreciated the fact that here were the very men themselves who had enlisted to make the ‘Federation of Empire’ a glorious fact.” A Union Jack, claimed to be the largest ever displayed in British North America, was unfurled for the audience. Fireworks brought the show to a close.

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Toronto Star, August 29, 1916.

Yes, visitors could experience a taste of trench warfare. Supervised by their officers, soldiers in the 169th Battalion spent the days leading up to the opening of the 1916 fair digging two sets of trenches replicating those found on the western front. For those craving battle action, mock naval attacks were staged in Lake Ontario, completed with a mined area off-shore.

To promote good taste and remove displays that might offend a wartime audience, the midway was cleaned up. Traditional sideshow freaks and “chambers of horrors” were replaced with sanitized attractions approved by William Banks, Toronto’s chief theatrical censor.

This ad also appears to be one of the first promoting the CNE to highlight the phrase “let’s go,” which would become part of its tagline years later.


Poster, 1917. Art by Arthur Henry Hider. Canadian National Exhibition Archives.

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 war dragged on. 

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 2, 1917.

The World‘s editorial about the 1917 CNE struck an optimistic note, especially regarding the entry of the United States into the war, and found the fair’s endurance through the war years remarkable.

It is a unique thing on this continent to carry on such a huge activity annually. To do it while the battle rages loud and long thru four years is nothing short of phenomenal…The entry of the United States into the war has thickened the fellowship between us and our neighbours, and the hundreds of their splendid young men who are with us on military duty at present, are an earnest of the thousands of visitors who will make the fair an opportunity to visit their relatives in the flying corps.


Programme cover, 1918. Canadian National Exhibition Archives.

Children’s Day always brought out a large crowd, and 1918’s was no exception, drawing 92,000 to the grounds on August 27 that year. The World observed the throngs of kids enjoying themselves:

Oh, so many children! Children everywhere. They surely took possession of the expansive Exhibition grounds yesterday. It was full possession too, no mistake about that. They settled on the grounds by “squatting” at luncheon time, and only with difficulty could one wend his way thru the great throng. Lunch baskets chock full of goodies were in evidence long before 12 o’clock, for it is astonishing how soon and how big young appetites get when there is a lunch basket handy.

Streetcars from all directions brought their precious loads, and by noon the grounds made a scene of animation not surpassed in all the years that there has been an exhibition.

Around 300 children found themselves at the lost children’s tent, setting a new record. Sobbing kids wanting their mothers brought in by police were soothed with candy and cookies. Others who found their way to the tent blamed their parents for their situation. As one girl declared, “I ain’t lost — my mother is.”


Baby clinics exhibition, September 6, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 585.

A provincial display offering child care tips, where nurses discussed topics ranging from proper clothing to setting up nurseries. It was one of the many educational exhibits designed to prepare parents for the postwar world. 

Next: The Prince of Wales and the Princes’ Gates.

Sources: The Ex: A Picture History of the Canadian National Exhibition by James Lorimer (Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel , 1973); Once Upon a Century: 100 Year History of the ‘Ex’ (Toronto: J.H. Robinson Publishing, 1978); the August 22, 1915 edition of the Buffalo Express; the June 15, 1949 edition of the Globe and Mail; the August 27, 1915, August 26, 1916, and August 29, 1916 editions of the Toronto Star; and the August 27, 1917, August 27, 1918, and August 28, 1918 editions of the Toronto World.

Whoops, False Armistice

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Having endured over four years of war, Torontonians were ready to cut loose as November 1918 dawned. As the Central Powers collapsed, there was a feeling that the Great War could end at any moment. The recent wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic had curtailed public gatherings, keeping people at home. All everyone needed to hear was that an armistice had been signed.

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Around noon on November 7, the Toronto Star posted a bulletin in the window of its office at 18 King West based on a United Press report that the war was over. Within an hour, people poured into the streets to celebrate, making as much noise as possible. Workers left their posts. Streetcar conductors barely made attempts to collect fares. Courtrooms emptied. Preparations were made to burn effigies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1918.

Problem was, an armistice had not been signed. The city’s other newspapers took a more cautious approach and waited for further confirmation. By the time the Star’s 5 p.m. edition hit the streets, it noted that earlier reports were unofficial. Though the news that it was a false alarm filtered to the streets, the celebrations continued. If the war didn’t end that day, reports that Germany was collapsing into chaos gave the impression it wouldn’t last much longer.

As the Mail and Empire framed the day:

Dame Rumour has been responsible for numerous announcements in the past four years of bitter struggle with Germany that have brought anxiety and anguish to many hearts, but none has had more widespread results that that which emanated from the office of an evening newspaper yesterday and placed Toronto in the midst of a torrent of frenzied celebration…Never before in the history of Canada has such a scene of indescribable exultant frenzy occurred as that which reigned in the streets of Toronto for more than ten hours. Judges of the Supreme Court, men learned in the law and staid and sober-minded businessmen discarded decorum and reserve in the contagious whirl of joy and joined in the universal paean of victory. The streets presented the appearance of a mammoth carnival with multitudinous vari-coloured streamers and ribbons hanging out from the windows of skyscrapers and adjacent buildings and showering onto the heads of cheering and jubilant humanity below.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

At least one death was attributed to the excitement. William Gloyns had finished stringing flags onto the the front of the D. Pike Awning Company’s office at 122 King East when, according to the News, “heart failure, accentuated by the excitement of the hour, seized him and he fell in a heap.” He was rushed to St. Mike’s, but died soon after. His wife told authorities that Gloyns had a long history of heart trouble, so no inquest was called.

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Toronto World, November 8, 1918.

Among the other stories that day:

  • In the Beaches, two Boy Scouts organized a victory parade, gathering over 200 children. At Waverley Road, a confectionary owner tossed candies to the kids, while a grocer gave them apples.
  • In Earlscourt, a window sign in a grocery store read “The Kaiser and his breed are beaten. We are so excited about it we cannot sell groceries. We will perhaps open again tomorrow morning.”
  • People who were ill left their sick beds to join the celebrations downtown. I’m a great deal healthier than Germany is at present,” one man told the Telegram.
  • At least one car was seen dangling a dead turkey from the top of its windshield.

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The Globe, November 8, 1918.

The Star’s competitors jumped on the paper for sharing the United Press bulletin. Here’s how the News presented the initial report…

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..and how it framed the story the next day.

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Toronto Daily News, November 8, 1918.

The News‘s editorial page stated that “The Toronto Star boasts that its special dispatches appeal to the imagination” The paper also wondered if “unreliable news agencies” would be banned from Canada as the Hearst chain’s had been earlier in the war.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

The Telegram tore into the Star, with two editorial pages blasting the paper for perpetrating a cruel hoax. The excessive degree of outrage reflected the near-pathological hatred editor-in-chief John “Black Jack” Robinson displayed towards the Star. Throughout the main editorial, “counterfeit news” appears repeatedly, and the piece goes as far as to suggest the incident would give German leaders a boost.

The editorial begins with an itemized tally of the number of soldiers from Toronto who had died (4,585 total), been wounded, or gone missing since July 18. It initially shares blamed for the cruel fake armistice story among several competitors and United Press.

Toronto’s broken hearts and mourning homes were the victims of an unexampled cruelty. That cruelty had its primary origin in the cold-blooded sensation-mongering of the United Press News Service. That cruelty was perpetrated upon the people of this city by the news columns and bulletins of the Toronto Star, aided and abetted by the bulletins of the Mail and Empire and the Globe.

Next, an argument that was the incident was a blot on the good name of the newspaper industry:

ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE PRICE OF ACCURACY. The United Press and the Toronto Star have made the newspaper business look like a disreputable trade. A newspaper should be diligent in the effort to verify the foundations of its statements as an individual is diligent in the effort to tell the truth.

Given the number of dead/injured soldiers from Toronto, the Telegram felt that:

A combination of stupidity, negligence and cupidity must explain the Toronto Star’s cruel and heedless circulation of the “news” manufactured in the counterfeiter’s den that calls itself the Paris headquarters of the United Press.

The final paragraph screams a torrent of anger, that may have been a wee excessive, if only for the use of all caps.

A true newspaper is not immune from HUMAN ERROR. THE ARMISTICE HOAX WAS AN EXAMPLE OF INHUMAN ERROR. The perpetrators of that cruelty and stupidity have made decent newspapers ashamed to be published in the same country as the sensation mongers and rumour pedlars who TORTURED THE HEARTS OF WOMEN, DEFILED THE HOLY ALTARS OF TORONTO’S GRATITUDE, AND SPOILED THE MOST SACRED MOMENT OF TORONTO’S LIFE.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Another half page was devoted to criticizing the Star and further editorializing, as well as showing how the Telegram was only interested in printing facts.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Here’s a surprise: if you think “fake news” is a term from the Trump era, here’s a sidebar showing how the “fake news” destroyed productivity for the day. Elsewhere in the paper, an account of how the story broke in New York used the headline ‘STORY OF NEWSPAPER CRIME” and subhead “COLD-BLOODED CRUELTY.”

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

There was even coverage on the women’s page.

Methinks the Telegram protested too much, and this incident presents a good example of the holier-than-thou attitude it often displayed in its war with the Star. Besides, compared to newspapers which published the United Press bulletin, the Star’s presentation was muted. Compare the Star’s front page on November 7…

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….to the New York World….

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…or, closer to home, the Hamilton Spectator.

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In the end, the citizens of Toronto had some fun while letting loose pent-up frustrations, and the false armistice served as a dress rehearsal for when an agreement was signed four days later.