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
George W. Gouinlock (1861-1932) was born in Paris, Ontario. Gouinlock began his career in Toronto with the architectural firm of Kennedy and Holland in 1886. In 1888, he set up a practice with G.W. King, but from 1901 until 1921 Gouinlock practised alone.
In the early 1900s, Gouinlock was approached by Toronto City Council to redesign the west end of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later known as the Canadian National Exhibition). Many of the buildings on the site at the time were wooden structures that were not meant to be permanent. Between 1902 and 1912 Gouinlock transformed the western end of the exhibition grounds with fifteen new structures set amidst broad boulevards and an open plaza. Gouinlock’s architectural plan was heavily influenced by the Beaux-Arts classical design he had encountered at Chicago’s World’s Columbia Exposition in 1893.
Unlike other Exhibition Place buildings by George W. Gouinlock, the Fire Hall and Police Station was not designed in the Beaux-Arts style. Instead, it has an eclectic architectural design featuring a clock tower, polychrome brick banding and a shallow pitched copper roof. The Fire Hall and Police Station has Arts and Crafts design elements. Its red brick exterior is designed in contrasting colours and textures and includes Tudor style detailing executed in wood and stucco. The building was also designed with wide entranceways, allowing easy access to the building for people and vehicles.
Although the Fire Hall and Police Station has undergone several planned alterations, such as one major restoration in 1981 to bring the building to Ontario Building Code standards as well as having modern, roll-up doors installed, the structure's basic character remains intact.
The Fire Hall and Police Station is divided into two sections. A detachment of the Toronto Police Services occupied a portion of the Fire Hall and Police Station year-round for a period of time from 2004 to 2013. In 2012, a detachment of Toronto Fire Services began to occupy the Fire Hall on a full time year round basis. Prior to 2012, Toronto Fire Services were only on site during the CNE. During the CNE Toronto Fire Services provide educational programming to visitors. In 2016, a detachment of Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation division took up residence in a portion of the Fire Hall for use as administrative services.
The Clock Tower of the Fire Hall and Police Station is currently undergoing restoration.
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.