The Bandshell

Erected in 1936 and located at the west end of the grounds of Exhibition Place, the Bandshell was built as a permanent structure to replace earlier open-air bandstand stages. A larger and more permanent stage could accommodate a wider range of musical performances. The Bandshell is a fine example of Art Deco design and, when built, embodied the latest in acoustical engineering and stage lighting. Photo courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, ca 1940

The Bandshell was designed by Craig & Madill Architects. Extensive research on other band shells, such as the Hollywood Bowl in the United States, influenced the design of the Bandshell. Art Deco features can be seen on the exterior of the shell that is decorated with stylized musical notes. The structure was built to accommodate a 100-piece band. The stage itself is 63 feet in width and 38 feet in depth and faces toward the north. The building includes a full basement which houses storerooms, a transformer room and dressing rooms. At the time it was built, the Bandshell featured the latest in acoustics and lighting. The ‘shell’ consists of eight semi-circular ‘louvres’ specifically engineered to achieve ideal acoustics. The Bandshell was built with 1,030 concealed lamps that illuminate the structure in red, green and blue. This lighting feature could be controlled with dimmers thus enhancing the musical performance on stage.

When it opened in 1936 the Bandshell featured the Kneller Hall Band, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the United States Navy Band amongst other noteworthy bands. The Bandshell became the place for visitors to congregate and listen to a variety of military bands and big bands from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Since its construction in 1936, the Bandshell has also served as the site of the official opening of the annual CNE. From the stage of the Bandshell, dignitaries such as William Lyon McKenzie King, Rear Admiral the Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Vincent Massey have presided over opening day ceremonies. In more recent years the CNE opening day ceremonies have taken place at the Princes’ Gates.

Over the years the Bandshell continued to feature various musical entertainment. In the 1970s, band competitions, also known as “Battle of the Bands”, were held on the Bandshell stage. The Bandshell has also been the site of body building competitions, celebrity appearances and talent shows.

Today, the Bandshell forms part of the Bandshell Park that is host to various festivals and events throughout the year. The structure also continues to highlight a variety of musical talent during the annual CNE in August.