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Toronto CNE cancelled including the Air Show for first time since WWII

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Second time in 142 years that the Canadian National Exhibition has not been held

CNE Skyride at Sunset by Greg Paupst

TORONTO, ON, May 12, 2020 — Canada’s largest fair, and an iconic Toronto celebration, will not light up this summer.  The Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA) announced today, with the support of the Province of Ontario and City of Toronto, that this year’s CNE will not move forward with its 18-day event slated for August 21 to September 7, 2020 at Exhibition Place. 

The historic decision marks only the second occasion in its 142-year history, and not since WWII, has the CNE closed in its entirety.  

Swing Ride at Sunset by Gregg (Scooter) Korek

“Safety always comes first at the CNE, and the decision to cancel our event is the right decision during this critical time to protect the health of all Canadians,” said John Kiru, President of the CNEA.  “Summer in Toronto will not be the same without the sights and sounds of the CNE, alongside so many annual festivals and cultural events that have been forced to cancel.  We stand in solidarity with the collective effort to curb this global pandemic, and we will all do our part to ensure it happens.”

“Public health must come first and while we will all have our fingers crossed for much better health conditions by late summer, prudence and the need for major commitments to be made now make this, sadly, the right decision made at the right time,” said Mayor John Tory.

In close consultation with the provincial and municipal governments, the CNEA Board of Directors voted on May 7, 2020 to cancel the event this year out of an abundance of precaution to safeguard the health of its employees, volunteers, visitors, vendors and artists; and its shared responsibility in protecting public safety during this unprecedented health crisis.

“We believe in the resilience of Torontonians; and know – when the time is right – the CNE will be back.”

John Kiru, President of the CNEA

CNE Midway by Gregg (Scooter) Korek

“Our hearts go out to the thousands of Canadians and families who have been affected by COVID-19; and we continue to draw hope and inspiration from the bravery of our healthcare and frontline workers, the compassion of everyday heroes, and community spirit that is stronger than ever,” says Kiru.  “We believe in the resilience of Torontonians; and know – when the time is right – the CNE will be back.”

The CNE is one of the largest fairs in North America and attracts more than 1.4 million visitors each year. Toronto’s three-week long end of summer event event has also had a long storied history of hosting memorable concerts over the years. Last summer’s Bandshell Concerts included Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jann Arden and Walk off the Earth in 2019.

Beyond Burger, Coco Concessions 2019

The CNE is perhaps best known for its vast array of incredible food building offerings, and annual debut of creative dishes such as last year’s pickle pizza and pickle lemonade.

The Canadian International Air Show has jointly cancelled its 2020 show which takes place annually over Lake Ontario on Labour Day Weekend during the final three days of the CNE.

There has been no word yet if the Molson Indy slated to be held from July 10 – 12, 2020 will also be cancelled.

Deep Fried Avocado, The Whole Enchilada 2019

While fans of the CNE won’t be able to enjoy the live experience of The EX in its full capacity this summer, organizers are planning to bring the fun of the fair through creative and innovative ways. Follow @letsgototheex on Twitter, as well as its channels on Facebook and Instagram, and visit the TheEx.com for exciting updates and content in the coming months.

The CNE has an annual economic impact of more than $128 million on the province of Ontario and $93 million on the Greater Toronto Area, and helps to employ more than 5000 seasonal workers over its 18-day fair.  Click here to view the CNE Infographic.

Canadian National Exhibition Crystal Palace 1890s

Historical Precedence

The Canadian National Exhibition has been a longstanding Ontario tradition since 1879.  Established as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition Association, the event changed its name in 1912 to the Canadian National Exhibition Association to reflect its growing popularity as no longer a local attraction, but a “Show Window to the Nation.”

The CNE has operated almost every year during its 142-year history, including throughout the First World War (1914-1918), when it staged military demonstrations and formations as part of the overall CNE experience.  However, during the Second World War (1942-1945), the CNE was closed when the site was transformed into a Training and Recruitment Centre.  It remained closed in 1946 to allow time for the military to move out.   

Young CNE visitors by the waterfront, 1906

“As we reflect back on the decades since our inception in 1879, it is clear that the CNEA serves as an important chronical of the history of Canada,” said Alicia Cherayil, Manager of CNE Archives.  “Although Coronavirus in 2020 is a challenge that the world has never seen before, it is important to remember that the CNE has faced, and endured, many such obstacles in the past.”

In addition to the two World Wars, the CNE has demonstrated its resiliency and resourcefulness throughout its history including surviving through the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918/19; the Polio epidemic of 1937 and 1951; SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, the electrical blackout on the Eastern Seaboard that same year which closed the CNE for its first four days in August; and the H1N1 (the Swine Flu pandemic) in 2009.

Mayor John Tory tweeted out that he is expecting 2021 will be grander than ever with extra planning time and also re-imagined.

“I believe we now have an opportunity for the CNE Association, City staff, Exhibition Place, and the provincial and federal governments to sit down and begin planning a modern CNE that would re-commence in 2021,” said Tory. “I would like to see us re-imagine a CNE which will keep its strong base of supporters here at home but will also evolve to an attraction which will bring visitors from across North America and around the world.”

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