The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) opened its gates for the 134th year on Friday, Aug. 17, with plenty of dignitaries and special guests on hand to celebrate the grand old festival.
A long-standing tradition in Toronto, signaling for many a last hurrah before summer ends, this year’s CNE experience promises plenty of old favourites, some new attractions and events and plenty of bacon.
In officially opening the Ex, CNE Association president Brian Ashton noted the exhibition has been a place where families and friends have come to forge memories for generations, adding that the annual event is about more than fun times and good food.
“For 134 years, the CNE has been a place of firsts,” he said. “It’s been a place of innovation – people could go to the Better Living Centre and see their first TV, see their first vacuum,” he said.
This year, the CNE will also take on a historic bent, standing on the site of the Battle of York, one of the bloodiest battles in the War of 1812. A CNE app will allow visitors to take a self-guided tour through the grounds to learn of some of the area’s history.
As has also become tradition, the CNE welcomed the year’s first family, Shannon Ryan and her husband Shawn Tobin, 12-year-old son Austin Tobin and 10-year-old daughter Taylor Tobin. Ryan won the honour for her family through a radio contest.
“I have a lot of wonderful memories of the Ex,” Ryan said. “I’ve come here a lot in the past and I always thought it was an amazing experience, but this is the first time for my kids so I’m excited to get to take them here.”
The family is looking forward to experiencing all the Ex has to offer, from the fair’s zipline to hamburgers that use a Krispy Kreme donut as a bun.
The first family heralded the start of celebrations along with Canadian trampoline athlete Rosie MacLennan, who took home Canada’s lone gold medal from the London Olympics.
“It’s always an amazing place, for sure, and I’ve always loved coming down here,” she said, adding she is open to sampling some of the CNE’s more unusual food items.
CNE general manager David Bednar said this year’s Ex will offer something for everyone, from the new NITRO roller coaster to the more relaxing Sky Ride, which carries riders over the exhibition grounds.
“The big one’s probably the Sky Ride, which is a $1.5-million piece built specifically for the CNE,” he said. “We’ll be doing some kind of funny stuff like celebrating the 250th anniversary of the sandwich, but also, on the serious side, honouring the War of 1812.”
The Ex will feature skating demonstrations from Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, with Elvis Stojko performing on the final weekend. The bandshell will host acts ranging from pop star Nick Carter and local indie rockers the Arkells to baby boomer favourites such as Don McLean and Herman’s Hermits.
“We did studies that showed we had a lot of room for growth potential in attracting boomers and young adults,” Bednar said.
While the rides and shows are certainly a draw, the Ex always makes waves for its food. This year, options include bacon fudge, bacon and nutella sandwiches and bacon-wrapped deep-fried Mars bars, among other – often healthier – options.
The CNE will remain open until Sept. 3.