The Queen Elizabeth Building

The Queen Elizabeth Building was built by the architectural firm of Page and Steele in 1956.  It became one of the first year round multi-use buildings at Exhibition Place.  The building is composed of three sections: a two-storey administration building, a 1,300 seat theatre with a glass-walled foyer and sculptural spiral staircase, and a large one-storey exhibition hall with 63, 000 square feet of exhibit space. The Queen Elizabeth Building displays a combination of structural and design elements characteristic of modern European exhibition halls including an emphasis on clean lines and open spaces.  Photo courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, taken during the 1962 CNE

During the 1950s, the Women’s Department programming at the CNE had grown exponentially and the need for a new Women’s Building was put forth by the CNE’s Board of Directors in 1954.  In 1955 the City of Toronto hired architects Page and Steele to design and construct the new Women’s Building.  It was later renamed the Queen Elizabeth Building in 1957.

Page and Steele was an architectural firm created in 1926 by Forsey Page and Harland W. Steele in Toronto.  In the 1950s they employed a well-known British architect named Peter Dickinson.  Dickinson played a prominent role developing modernist architecture in Toronto during the 1950s, completing some of the city’s most celebrated mid-century Modern buildings like the O’Keefe Centre (now Sony Centre). The Queen Elizabeth Building was one of the seven major structures added to Exhibition Place between 1948 and 1962 which exemplified the Modernist architecture movement in Toronto.  One of the building’s most distinctive architectural features is its folded plate roof that allowed for uninterrupted interior spaces.  Modernist architectural design consisted of classic, understated looks, and clean lines with minimal ornamentation.  This style emphasized creating structures with ample windows and open floor plans, with the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors in.  

While outfitting the theatre’s interior with modern stage construction and lighting techniques, Dickinson also embellished the theatre foyer with sweeping staircases and a polychromatic marble floor.   Above the entrance to the theatre is an impressive copper sculpture by Canadian artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood.  It depicts the full range of activities that might occur on the stage within.  At the time that the theatre was built it featured the largest stage of any theatre in Canada.  

The Queen Elizabeth Theatre became popular for its fashion shows and cooking demonstrations during the CNE.  But the theatre was also utilized outside of the annual summer fair.  The theatre has hosted a variety of events on stage such as a CBC Trans-Canada talent show in 1959, a public art auction in 1967, Miss Teenage Canada contest in 1969, the 1975 Juno Awards, Karate-Mania in 1986 and the popular 1996 stage show that payed tribute to the life of singer Patsy Cline.  

The landscape surrounding the Queen Elizabeth Building is filled with artwork by well-known Canadian artists.  The west lawns of the building contain four limestone sculptures by sculptor E. B. Cox.  Sculptor Frances Loring was commissioned to create a large relief sculpture for the exterior’s south façade.   The large polystyrene sculpture is titled Woman and Children.  And, just outside of the Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall, four granite benches by artist Stephen Cruise are placed at the southeastern exit.

Today, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is leased as a concert venue and the upstairs dining area, Fountainblu, is leased as a premier banquet venue.  The Queen Elizabeth administration area was home to the offices of Exhibition Place staff up until 2014.  This portion of the building is now also leased to a tenant.  The Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall continues to host mid-size trade shows and other conventions throughout the year