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You’re driving west from Toronto on the Gardiner Expressway and something strange happens. Instead of condominiums and industrial areas, you see stunning brickwork buildings with copper roofing. A little farther along the highway, you pass by domed towers and a grand entranceway for a coliseum. Within a kilometre, a professional soccer field passes by your window, and past that you see an array of historic buildings that look to be over a hundred years old. It’s Exhibition Place, Toronto’s main event centre.
Before European settlement, this area was a portage route for native Americans. Ancestors of today’s Six Nations, Huron-Wendat, and other Indigenous groups used the route to shorten their passage to the northern Great Lakes. Later, France built forts in this area for fur trading and to facilitate their passage north. As French power receded in the later 1700s, their forts were replaced by British forts. The space was reserved for the military until the late 1800s when the City of Toronto had a growing need for exhibition space. Multiple rebuilding phases throughout the 1900s facilitated horse racing, professional baseball leagues, and exhibitions. The BMO Field, an outdoor soccer stadium opened in 2007 and, in 2015, Exhibition Place was the site of the Pan Am and Parapan Games.
Stanley Barracks is the oldest remaining building from when the area was inhabited by the British military, who called the base New Fort York. Constructed in 1841, these barracks were once officer quarters. The Music Building is another unique structure with three domed roofs connecting to form a majestic triangular establishment. The Horse Palace is a heritage building and is considered one of Toronto’s finest examples of art deco. The two-storey building is clad with yellow brick and limestone masonry, and the interior is decorated with stone carvings of full-bodied horses. Completed in 1931, the building is where the Toronto Police Service stables its horses and is also the site of a private riding academy. These are just a few examples of the historic and architecturally impressive buildings at Exhibition Place.
Things to Do in the Exhibition Place
Arts & Culture
Many events pass through Exhibition Place. The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair is annually held in the Queen Elizabeth Building. This fair showcases contemporary artists from across Canada. It’s an opportunity for visitors to meet artists and buy their work directly. The Toronto Caribbean Carnival is a festival of Caribbean culture and traditions and is considered by some as North America’s largest street festival. The Grande Parade for the festival starts at Exhibition Place and proceeds down Lakeshore Boulevard. Exhibition Place has over 90 works of outdoor art made by international and local artists, including intricate paving designs, mosaics, and sculptures made of stone and metal.
One of the returning shows to the Enercare Centre includes the One Of A Kind Show. This is where shoppers can find unique products made by local artisans. First held in 1975, the show provides a platform for artisans to showcase their goods and sell directly to consumers. Another recurring event at the Enercare Centre is the Toronto Motorcycle Show. This event gives motorheads a chance to view and purchase unique motorcycles. Sneaker Con is another annual consumer show dedicated to rare shoes. Collectors come to this event to buy, sell, and trade kicks with thousands of sneaker fans.
Restaurants & Dining
The Canadian National Exhibition Food Building is where vendors serve hundreds of thousands of people who attend the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Over the 18-day extravaganza, visitors are treated to an eclectic collection of food vendors who also serve vegan, raw food, and halal options. You can buy classic festival foods like candy apples or cotton candy, or try experimental dishes like Japanese souffle pancakes, apple cheesecake poutine, or a pierogi burger. Acqua Dolce Resto Venue is a restaurant open all year serving high-end meals. The restaurant has a patio and lakefront views.
The closest park to Exhibition Place is Coronation Park. The large park has three baseball diamonds, a dog park, and a paved trail bordering the lakeside. Toronto Inukshuk Park is directly southwest of Coronation Park. It is home to the Toronto Inukshuk, a legacy project commemorating World Youth Day in 2002. The Inukshuk is a large stone structure shaped like a human. These structures are normally found in the Arctic serving as a guide for travellers. South of Inukshuk Park you will find Trillium Park. This park was once a parking lot but today is forested with trees, a garden, and is a great place to view the Toronto skyline.
Also known as the Ex, the CNE is Canada’s largest annual fair. The Ex started in 1879 to promote agriculture and technology. Today, the 18-day event attracts over a million visitors. Some of the events include live entertainment, agricultural displays, and a large carnival midway with rides, games, and food. One of the CNE’s staple features since 1949 is the Canadian International Air Show occurring on Labour Day weekend. A new event to the CNE is the Gaming Garage, where video gamers can compete against each other and try novel gaming experiences.
Transit & Commute Times
There are two direct routes to Exhibition Place from downtown Toronto. One is driving west or east (depending on where you’re coming from) until you reach Strachan Avenue, from where you will turn south. The other route is driving south until you reach Queens Quay West, which takes you to Exhibition Place. Arriving via public transit requires you to take the University-Yonge subway line south to Union Station. From there, you will take a streetcar west along Queens Quay West, disembarking at Fleet Street at Strachan Avenue.
An All-Year-Round Festival
Once a military base for both French and British armies, Exhibition Place has gone through many changes. While historic buildings remain, the centre is filled with modern artwork, newly installed parks, and events that celebrate all that is fresh and innovative in Canada. The venues host skilled artisans, professionals, and hobbyists who convene to share their love for their trades. Last but not least, Exhibition Place is home to the CNE. The Ex sticks to its roots by displaying leading advances in agriculture and technology. At the same time, the event looks to the future with industry-leading entertainment and creative cuisine.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Exhibition Place, Toronto, known for?
For over a hundred years this location has hosted events for arts, sports, technology, and agriculture.
Why is it called Exhibition Place?
This area was first given exclusive status as a place for exhibitions around 1903 when the Toronto city council decided to rebuild the site, replacing many of its military buildings.