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A Pictorial History of Toronto Transit Displays at the Exhibition

Text by James Bow

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The Canadian National Exhibition has been operating in the same location since 1879, when it was founded as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Today, millions flock to the fairgrounds at the end of August to ride the Midway, sample the food building, see live entertainment, and enjoy various flea markets. When the fair was founded, it had a more educational goal. Like fairs in other cities and towns, the Exhibition was a chance to view prize-winning agricultural goods, and the latest and greatest in new manufacturing wonders.

This element of the Exhibition has faded in recent years, but for decades businesses as well as governments used the Exhibition as an opportunity to promote themselves by unveiling new technologies. From 1884, when Belgian inventor Charles Van Depoele built an experimental electric railway to connect Exhibition visitors with Toronto Street Railway horsecars near the gates, the Exhibition has been a venue where Torontonians could see the transportation of the future. In the years to come, the Toronto Transit Commission and its predecessors made the most of the opportunity to present their best face to curious Torontonians. Displays have ranged from single new streetcars, to a larger displays of heritage equipment covering the history of public transit in Toronto. There has even been a mock subway station built, with a train in the platform, to educate Torontonians on thew new subway line that would open months later.

While this article cannot act as a definitive source of every public transportation display the Exhibition has ever hosted, the gallery below should give readers a sample of the depth and breadth of equipment Torontonians were able to see at the Exhibition through its many years.

Exhibition Displays Image Archive