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Canadian National Exhibition: Nostalgia in Toronto for End of Summer CNE Traditions (Photo Essay)

Writing and Photos by @Reesestdot / Writing by Tdot Shots



It’s a warm summer night tinged with a cool breeze drifting in from Lake Ontario. The action on the midway will continue into the evening but it’s already dark. Families who spent the day in the sun are walking to cars or waiting for streetcars at the loop. Children are sleeping in strollers.

The lights of the midway pulse and flash their neon across the scene. After an afternoon rain, puddles linger – perfect for reflection photography. With these photos, Reese transports us back in time to summer evenings past. Strolling with friends, the squeals of children and teenagers on rides. Cotton candy, roasted nuts, or Tiny Tom’s donuts, freshly baked by the food building.


The CNE is a long-standing end of summer tradition that has been going on for decades. The Canadian National Exhibition was founded in 1879 and has run every year since except for during World War II (1942-1946) and during this pandemic summer of 2020.

The Ex, as the nickname goes, is a provincial fair with agricultural and entertainment themes, large midway and multiple buildings. It is an annual event that lasts 18 days (from mid-August to Labour Day). It culminates in a famous air show over Lake Ontario that features performances by aerial teams including Canada’s Snowbirds.

Located at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, the main address is Princes’ Boulevard, which has a triumphal arch monumental gateway framing the entrance. It is firmly etched in the hearts of all Torontonians as a classic summer event that’s not to be missed.


Girls taking selfie with puddle reflection / photo by @reesestdot

“This capture was taken on the opening day of the 2018 CNE, despite the torrential downpours and flooding along Lakeshore Boulevard, there was a silver lining to that cloud and that silver lining came in the form of puddles galore. As much as possible, I try to time my nighttime visits to the CNE when it’s going to be stormy and raining. All the lights and colours and smells of the midway become magical once the sun goes down. This felt like one of those moments when the stars aligned and all the elements of my shot came together with an interesting subject (the girls taking the selfie) surrounded by all the colour and lights of the “Water Gun Fun” booth – a quintessential CNE moment of food, games and fun time with friends.”


CNE midway lane with puddle reflection / photo by @reesestdot

I’m always on the hunt for spots with large puddles, near brightly lit colourful booths and rides. Once I’ve got the lights and colours covered, it’s a matter of scouting the right angle in the puddle. Ideally, you’ll have a large puddle that doesn’t have much debris in it (to maintain the mirror-like reflection) and wide enough to show all the elements of your photo. I’ve found that getting low to the ground and close to the puddle as much as possible will help get the most of your composition into the shot – just try to not dip your camera in the water (🙋 guilty!). It helps to take more than one shot, there may be ripples in the puddle as the wind is blowing, people walking by – lots of factors that can affect your shot. Pretty much, once you’ve found your spot, it’s a matter of waiting for the right subjects to walk through.


The CNE is a distinctly Toronto summer experience. For approximately two weeks, the Exhibition Grounds are transformed, with vendors booths everywhere, the smell of fried food in the air, carnival game vendors enticing passersby to play “toss the ring” or “shoot some hoops and win a prize”, punctuated by screams of roller coaster riders as they whiz on by. And off in the not-so-far distance is the CN Tower, that iconic Toronto landmark, to remind you just what city you’re in.

A majority of Torontonians have some memory or another of having gone to the CNE and while it may be seen as nostalgic, one has to admit that it is still an experience that we all look forward to at the end of the summer months.

We will all surely look forward to the Ex arriving summer of 2021. Let’s cross our fingers that things have returned to normal by then.



Author / Photographer

Reese is a Toronto-based photographer, often found exploring the streets of downtown (as of late Chinatown because it’s an amazing spot for night time street photography and for the food!) if not checking out great places to eat and drink (ideally places with a view – think the Broadview Hotel Rooftop Patio).


CNE at Wikipedia

CNE Website


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