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
The Gooderham Fountain, constructed in 1911, was a monument to the wealthy industrialist William Gooderham who, along with his brother-in-law James Worts, established the Gooderham and Worts distillery in Toronto in 1837. The fountain was constructed on what was called the "Grand Plaza of Exhibition City," between the Horticulture Building, the Graphic Arts Building and the Administrative Building (Press Building). It became a favourite place for fair-goers to meet with friends and family. In 1957 the CNE Board of Directors sought to either renovate the Gooderham Fountain or replace it entirely. City of Toronto Council approved the construction of a new fountain and the CNE allocated a budget of $70,000 to cover the costs.
The Princess Margaret Fountain was built approximately 100 feet south of where the Gooderham Fountain was situated. It is set in a prominent location directly across from the Queen Elizabeth Building, at the intersection of Princes’ Boulevard, Manitoba Drive and PEI Crescent. The fountain was designed by the Toronto based exhibit-display firm Design Craft and installed in 1958. It consists of tiers of three progressively larger circular basins constructed of steel and reinforced concrete clad in terrazzo. This triple bowl design allows the water to cascade over the edges of the fountain. The fountain was designed to have a 16 colour-changing light show when operated at night. The original lighting design had 89 lights for the lower pool, 29 lights for the center bowl and 13 lights for the upper bowl. These lights were controlled by a colour changing apparatus that would light the fan jets.
The new fountain was dedicated by its namesake, Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, when she visited Exhibition Place on July 31st during her Canadian tour in 1958. The Princess pushed the button of the fountain that started the jets and colour show. 20,000 visitors packed the Grandstand as Princess Margaret stopped to greet guests and take in a 2,000,000 bloom flower show in her honour.
Source: The Telegram, Toronto, August 1, 1958
The Princess Margaret Fountain is still a favourite meeting spot for members of the public attending events at the west end of the grounds of Exhibition Place. The fountain operates starting at the beginning of summer and the colours change on a timed delay.