The Horse Palace

The Horse Palace has been described as one of the finest Art Deco Buildings in the City of Toronto. Art Deco elements of the Horse Palace include a hard-edged angular composition, cubist forms and strong horizontal and vertical planes. The low relief sculptured friezes of horses located on the exterior of the building are also indicative of the Art Deco style of design. When it opened in 1931, the Horse Palace was billed as one of the finest equestrian facilities in Canada and continues to fulfill its traditional role during the annual Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The Horse Palace was designed and constructed in 1931 under an agreement between the City of Toronto, the Dominion of Canada and Province of Ontario to provide improved stable accommodation for horses. The building was designed by City of Toronto architect J.J. Woolnough.  The exterior walls of the Horse Palace consist of brick and Queenston limestone masonry.   The building is connected to the West Annex of the Coliseum by a canopy at ground level and a pedestrian passageway at the second floor level.   The horse is symbolized throughout the building’s detailing with carvings of full bodied horses in different poses over the west entrance doors and sculptural reliefs of horse’s heads over the main entrances.  Inside a large exercise ring was constructed in the centre of the building.    The interior stables, embellished with decorative metal work, originally accommodated 1200 horses during the annual CNE Royal Horse Show and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.* 

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the City of Toronto offered Exhibition Park to the Canadian military.  Between 1942 and 1946, the grounds of Exhibition Place were occupied by different areas of the Canadian military.  The Canadian Army established sleeping quarters in the Horse Palace where soldiers bunked in horse stalls while waiting to be sent overseas.  

The Horse Palace has been part of Exhibition Place’s environmental initiatives across the grounds.  In 2006 solar panels were installed on the roof of the Horse Palace as part of the Photovoltaic (PV) Generation Plant Project.  At that time, the 100 kilowatt plant was the largest single installation of its kind in Canada.  Since then, PV generation has expanded to a 200 kW system atop the Horse Palace that generates 200,000 kW per year of pollution-free electricity.  There are also two Green Roof pilot projects atop the Horse Palace which reduce heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), improve site storm water management and help to reduce the urban heat island effect and ultimately cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.  As well the roof of the Horse Palace has been retrofitted with a cool roof.  A cool roof consists of roofing material that can reflect the sun’s energy from the roof surface.  Cool roofs reduce the heat transferred into the building, thereby reducing the urban heat island effect.

Since 1931, the Toronto Police have had a Mounted Unit temporarily stationed in the Horse Palace during the CNE and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.  In 1968, however, a Mounted Unit took up residence in the Horse Palace on a year-round basis, while other Mounted Units were stationed in various other stables across the city. In the late 1990s, Toronto Police decided to bring all the mounted units together in one place and to this end the stables at Exhibition Place underwent major renovations. The Mounted Unit of the Toronto Police moved into its new home in the Horse Palace in 2000.  This brought all of the Mounted Unit’s personnel together in one facility for the first time in 100 years.** 

In June of 2003, the Riding Academy also took up residence in the Horse Palace. The Riding Academy offers professional riding instructions to novices and advanced-level students. Also available on site through the Exhibition Therapeutic Riding Academy (ExTRA) is therapeutic riding lessons for children and adults with physical and/or cognitive impairments.

*Barry Bryan Associates Limited, Building Assessment Study Horse Palace, 1992.

**Bill Wardle, The Mounted Squad. An Illustrated History of the Toronto Mounted Police, 1886-2000 (Markham, Ontario, 2002).