The CNE: Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. Much More than the Midway.


A little tad—let’s call him Louis—counts the hours until the CNE, the Canadian National Exhibition opens in mid- August of 1956. Called the “Industrial Exhibition of Toronto” when it opened in 1879, in Louis’ day, the CNE was a “must see” for every kid in Toronto and its sprawling suburbs.

Young Louis is setting his 9-year-old sights on the food, the rides and the midway, but in years to come he’ll take an interest in the buildings that make up the mega-acre site along Toronto’s waterfront.

He’ll learn that around the turn of the century, Toronto’s city fathers had hired George W. Guinlock, one of the province’s premier architects to design a series of 15 buildings to showcase Ontario’s accomplishments during the duration of the Exhibition.

Inside these classically-designed structures, the best, and the most modern of Canadian commerce, arts, science, agriculture, horticulture and industry promised to  “wow” visitors over the CNE’s two-week duration.

Between 1902 and 1912, Guinlock’s buildings would rise over the massive 350-acre site of the Industrial Exhibition’s grounds, close by the Lake Ontario waterfront.

In 1912, the “Fair” took a new name, The Canadian National Exhibition” and Guinlock’s buildings became the showcases among the showcase of the CNE itself.


By 1956, when Louis and Marjorie Silcox arrive for their day at “the Fair,” several of Guinlock’s marvels, designed in the elegant Beaux-Arts architectural style have been demolished–the victims of “urban renewal.” Some have burned to the ground.

But little Louis doesn’t care much about history. He’s itching to hit the midway. Too young still for the Flyer and the Wild Mouse, he might talk Mom into letting him try the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Whiz-bang.

Marjorie has her priorities too. They’ll be sure to stop in at the Honey Dew booth. It’s the only time her taste buds will be satisfied by the orange-honey beverage.

The bus lets them off at the gates of the Fair and the pair head for the Horticulture Building. Marjorie’s a gardener and is anxious to see the glorious displays mounted by Toronto’s various horticultural clubs.

Guinlock’s building itself is a beauty to behold. Laid out in the shape of an E, a magnificent glass dome allows sunshine at the intersection of the building’s three wings.

The Horticulture Building has a history too. Between 1942 and 1946, it was claimed by the Canadian Armed Forces as their Quartermaster’s Store.

In 1949, Guinlock’s Horticulture Building served temporarily as a morgue for over 100 casualties of the sinking of the liner Noronic in Toronto Harbour.


Enough of flowers, next stop is the Food Building where Louis edges up to the front of the mouth-watering displays of food and the latest kitchen gadgets coming on the market. If he’s lucky, he might get chosen for a free sample– a donut, hot from the new-fangled fryer. Egg choppers are the latest time-saving tool and the young lad at the front of the crowd might get to sample some tasty egg salad too.

It’s time for the pair to move on. Marjorie stops to admire the CNE Administrative Building, the oldest of Guinlock’s CNE structures. While she’s not familiar with the architectural style—Beaux-Arts, she does admire the intricate ornamentation on the face. Colour has been incorporated into the Ontario crest design of Guinlock’s 1905 building.

The pair is finally on the midway and Marjorie fishes a quarter out of her change purse. Louis has his eye on The Flyer. It’s a monster of a ride—a noisy wooden coaster that, from the sound of the screams coming from the riders is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

He’ll have to be content with the tamer Tilt-a-Whirl. This whirling dervish still offers a shake-up to a lad’s innards.  


For a change of pace, the pair is heading to Guinlock’s Railway Building. Considered by many architecture buffs as the most beautiful and unique of his CNE structures, the Railway Building was designed as three octagonal domes connected to form a triangular inner space.

Inside, it showcased rail travel and achievements. As the popularity of rail travel waned in the 1960’s, the Railway building was reborn as the Hydro Building where advancements in energy development, then nuclear power were showcased.


Louis is anxious to get a seat for the afternoon Grandstand show. The entertainment will feature a pack of testosterone-fuelled Daredevils, jumping cars over each other, stunt driving and the usual automotive mayhem.

On the way to the Grandstand, Mom and son pass by the CNE Fire Hall and Police Station.  It’s the only one of the 15 Guinlock-designed buildings that veers from the ornate Beaux-Arts architectural style. Quirky in design, it features a clock tower and a copper pitched roof.

The building continues to serve today as Toronto Fire Department Number 90 Station. It’s occupied during the CNE by the Toronto Police Services too.


It’s been a packed day and both Louis and Marjorie are ready to call it a day. Mom has promised her son a final treat before the bus ride home. It’s a tough choice between the caramel corn and a Shopsy’s hot dog, but the beef wins.

Heading back to the Dufferin Gates where they’ll wait for the Clarkson bus, they pass by the Government Building. “What in there, Mom?” Louis asks. “I have no idea—government stuff I guess,” she answers. She’s thinking on that Honey Dew drink, wishing it was available at her corner Red and White. “I guess that’s why nobody’s lined up to get in,” Marjorie adds.

The CNE’s Government Building does much more business in 2018. It’s the home of the popular Medieval Times Theatre Company. Jousting and armour are more fun than blueprints and documents any day.








“You are about to enter a building calculated to inspire the beholder with astonishment.”

William Lyon Mackenzie. 1830.

Like a long marriage, there have been ups and ups and down in Nancy and Louis’ National Historic Site adventures. Almost two years after stepping foot in our first of almost 200 Sites, the wonderful John McCrae House in Guelph, a handful stand out as spectacular, as verified treasures.

Near the top of our favourites is the Sharon Temple, in the Ontario village of Sharon, north of Newmarket.

So stay for a while, and find out what makes the Sharon Temple spectacular.  I’ll lay bets that you’ll want to add it a visit your summer “to do in Ontario ” list.


Time travel back with me to Upper Canada of the early 1820’s. It’s a wild and wooly land with roads scarcely more than dirt tracks. Settlers, most emigrating from the British Isles or America  do battle with cruel and harsh elements to survive and put food on the family’s table. (If they even owned such a convenience!)

A band of disaffected Quakers, “plain folk,” who call themselves “The Children of Peace” have arrived in an unsettled area north of the bustling town of York (now Toronto.) Led by American-born David Willson, a failed preacher, the Children view themselves as ‘the new Israelites lost in the wilderness of Upper Canada.” Their settlement, which they call “Hope” will be the group’s  “new Jerusalem, the focal point of God’s kingdom on earth.”

After shelter and barns are built, the Children turn their sights on building a great temple where they’ll worship. Ebeneezer Doan will be the architect and master builder, with men of the community providing the labour. Its design and construction will provide a curious number of contradictions between the builders and the building.


Behind their pious and plain exterior, The Children of Peace were an ambitious lot—ambitious for material wealth; ambitious for recognition. Herein lies Contradiction #1.

So Doan’s great House of Worship would be no humble log structure, with a wooden crate for its pulpit; split timber for  pews. A soaring structure of architectural complexity and exquisite workmanship would rise above the rural landscape. Its magnificence would draw people from miles around to look and wonder.

Construction of the Hope (later Sharon) Temple began in 1825 and was completed in 1832. It’s no co-incidence that its seven year “gestation” paralleled that of the building of the Old Testament’s Solomon’s Temple. Numbers and The Bible will figure into much of the Temple’s design. Tag along to see what I mean. We’ll begin outside. 

Symbolic Symmetry

As Solomon’s great achievement was his “four-square” Temple, so too would be the legacy of The Children of Peace. Covered in white board with green trim, the Temple would rise 3 stories, to represent the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Symmetry is all, with the base measuring exactly 60 by 60 feet;  the second floor 20 by 20 feet, and the third 12 by 12. 

Chained to tip-top of the pinnacle is a curious golden ball, or orb. Deep in symbolism, the orb represents the world upheld by the Trinity.  At each corner of each level, elaborate towering lanterns are placed. 

Tall multi-paned windows, in units of three– their glass imported from England — would bring welcome sun equally to every corner of the Temple.Four identical doors–one on each side- -allowed those who entered The Great Temple to do so “on equal footing.”  

Look Up–Look Way Up

Let’s go inside by the east door. We’ll run directly into “Jacob’s Ladder” a dizzyingly-steep staircase that leads to the musicians’ gallery above. Here we’ll find the Temple’s Contradiction #2.

While music played little role in Quaker faith, this House of Worship would resound with song.  The congregation and choir seated on the ground would provide the voices, but the instrumental music would come from above—the third floor loft.

No service elevators here! Before service, Temple musicians would ascend to the ethers with their respective instruments. After service they would struggle down from the “heavens.” I wonder if the Children of God’s orchestra included a tuba or double bass player!  

The Church of Peace gains the distinction of forming the first orchestra in Ontario.

Let’s climb up there ourselves, but hang on for dear life. The spectacular view is worth the effort, as you can see for miles. But the descent to to the first floor is no less anxiety-causing. We’re glad glad to be on terra firma.

Arks and Pillars of Virtue

The Temple’s main floor is dominated by the handsome wooden altar, crafted to mimic the Ark of the Covenant. Glass allows a peek inside. Here are written the 10 Commandments. Around of the altar are placed four sturdy wooden columns. Each is named for one of the four Virtues: Faith, Hope Love and Charity. Twelve interior lanterns are mounted on 12 wooden pillars throughout the worship area. 

You’ll notice there are no pews. The congregation, up to 300 souls sat on wooden chairs during service. Different levels of flooring allowed the short-of- stature to see more clearly as their attention was focused in the altar.

As befitting a Temple where music plays a key role, the Temple boasted three organs, all on the ground floor. The earliest, built by Richard Coates in 1820 was the first in organ built in Ontario. 

Given the magnificence of the Temple, it seems curious that the Children of Peace used their place of worship so infrequently. Only 15 times a year were services held—on the last Saturday of each month, as well as other special days. For service, candles were placed in all the windows and the lanterns.

Regular Sunday services were held in a smaller Children of God meeting house.

More than Architecture

The Children of Peace are footnoted in Ontario history for more than their marvellous Temple. Led by the progressive and ambitious Willson, they initiated the Farmer’s Storehouse, the provinces’s first co-operative. They also founded and  opened Ontario’s first Credit Union. Under Willson’s astute business acumen, the Children of God became wealthy. By 1851, Hope was considered the most affluent community in Ontario.  

Charity was first and foremost in the minds of The Children of Peace. Alms for the poor were collected during church services and distributed to the less-fortunate of the community.

Political movers and shakers too, David Willson and his followers were outspoken supporters of William Lyon McKenzie, one of the fathers of “responsible” government and democracy in Ontario. Herein lies contradiction #3. Espousing democratic values, Willson ruled his empire as an iron-fisted autocrat.

After David Willson

Small wonder that on Willson’s death in 1866, the Children of Peace lost momentum and eventually disbanded. The last service was held in the Temple in 1899.

Derelict and abandoned until 1917, the Sharon Temple was purchased by the York Pioneer and Historical Society. Some restoration took place at that time. In 1990, the Sharon Temple was designated a National Historic Site and is administered today as a Museum by the Sharon Temple Museum Society,

At 200th anniversary celebrations at the Temple in 2012, speaker John Ralston Saul, husband of former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson called the Children of Peace’s achievement “the birthplace of democracy in Canada.”


















Here’s a quiz for you:
Name the landmark that comes to mind when I say “Paris, France.”
“Eiffel Tower.” Right?
“ The CN Tower. For sure.”
A third one…
“Sydney, Australia?”
“The Sydney Opera House.”
Now here’s one to try a little closer to home, for you southwestern Ontarians…
And while the name, “The Church of Our Lady Immaculate” might not come immediately to mind, the image surely does….
“Our Lady” towers above the downtown landscape of this mid-sized Ontario city, rising grand and glorious, all turrets and towers and parapets, dazzling in Gothic splendor.


When John Galt founded Guelph in 1827, he staked out the highest point in the landscape and claimed it for Roman Catholics. Here, one day would rise “a church to rival St. Peter’s in Rome.”

Galt’s first tribute to Catholicism burned to the ground in 1835; the second one suffered a similar ignominy in 1846. Not until 1877 would work begin on the present Church of Our Lady Immaculate.

Architect Joseph Connolly was engaged to bring John Galt’s grandiose goal to fruition. With unlimited resources and imagination, Connolly took the great cathedral in Cologne, Germany as his model.

Higher and higher, over 200 feet, towards heaven, Our Lady rose. Under the direction of gifted stone artisan Matthew Bell, an army of stone masons sculpted limestone from the nearby Grand River into detailed form. Poor Bell died when he fell from a height during work on the church.

Meanwhile a battalion of craftsmen worked on the church’s interior. Only “dazzling” would do.

Woodworkers chiseled intricate trims and carvings, while mural artists painted sacred scenes on Our Lady’s walls and ceilings. Only the finest stained glass would do, and nine luminous windows were imported from France and Germany. Sun shining through them would bathe the parishioners in heavenly blues; earthy golds and greens.

The statue of the Virgin Mary dominating the altar was created from the purest of pure, the whitest of white, Carrera marble. Our Lady’s massive pipe organ was painstakingly hand-made by the Casavant Frères in Quebec.

Eleven years after construction began, in 1888, the dedication of The Church of our Lady Immaculate was held.


A long line of priests have served the church’s flock over its 175 year history. Several are noteworthy. One, Father Sanderi became legendary for his two-hour “fire and brimstone” sermons. If this was not cause enough for congregational rebellion, he chastised his flock, many poor Irish immigrants who had fled the Potato Famine, for “stinginess” in the Sunday Mass collection.

Legend reports that the congregation eventually drove Father Sanderi from the parish. He lived for a time as a hermit on an island in nearby Puslinch Lake, before retiring to a monastery.

Father Caspar Matoga served his parishoners in the mid-1850’s. No doubt equating religious service with pain, Father Matoga preferred walking to horse and buggy transportation when visiting outlying parishes.

When exhaustion overtook the fatigued Father, he was known to lie down in the road to rest. After a walk of 30 miles to Guelph, the pious priest collapsed and died.


Current city of Guelph by-laws continue to protect Our Lady’s position in the community. “Protected areas” in Guelph’s downtown ensure clear “sight lines” to the massive church on the hill. Any communication towers built in the downtown area must not obscure the view of the church. And in the ultimate concession to John Galt’s vision, no new buildings are allowed to be taller than Our Lady.

With church membership numbering over 2500, the Church of Our Immaculate remains one Ontario’s largest parishes. Masses are conducted daily.

But history—even the most glorious examples—fades, and Our Lady is no exception. A major restoration project on the church roof and interior has been going on since 2007. This work comes with no small cost. Estimates are between $10 to $12 million.

Designated a National Historic Site in 1990, the church is open to the general public most weekdays. Tours are offered the first Sunday afternoon of every month, or by appointment.

Church of Our Lady Immaculate

28 Norfolk Street,

Guelph, Ontario

N1H 4H8