TORONTO — The Canadian National Exhibition has been cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual summer spectacle joins a slew of large public events sidelined by the outbreak, which also forced the cancellation of Toronto’s Pride Parade and Caribbean Carnival, the Calgary Stampede, live Canada Day events in Ottawa and music festivals across the country.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford broke the news at a televised press conference Tuesday, when he reminisced about his own treasured memories at the family-friendly cavalcade of amusement rides, agricultural exhibits and food.
“These are some of the sacrifices that we’re facing as a society,” said Ford.
“It’s something part of our culture here, part of our heritage going back over 100 years, so I’m going to miss it.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he believed the move was “the right decision at the right time.”
“Public health must come first,” he said.
Tory said it’s time to have a discussion about the future of The Ex and how it can showcase innovation. While he didn’t offer specifics, he said there’s an “unprecedented opportunity” to see the annual event “reimagined.”
The Canadian National Exhibition Association said Tuesday the cancellation was “the right decision during this critical time to protect the health of all Canadians.”
“We felt that this was the right time to do this to protect the health and safety of not only our patrons, but also of our staff, of our vendors and our artists,” said association president John Kiru.
“We believe in the resilience of Torontonians; and know — when the time is right — the CNE will be back.”
This is only the second time in the fair’s 142-year history that it has cancelled all events. The last time was the Second World War, when the site was transformed into a training and recruitment centre.
The CNE is one of the largest fairs in North America and attracts more than 1.4 million visitors each year.
Organizers say the fair’s annual economic impact tops $128 million for the province of Ontario and $93 million for the Greater Toronto Area. It employs more than 5,000 youth.
The 18-day event had been slated to run Aug. 21 to Sept. 7.
Annual highlights include the Canadian International Air Show, bandshell concerts and an array of food including wild concoctions that last year included tortilla-wrapped fried Snickers bars and pickle lemonade.
Also cancelled is the air show, which takes place annually over Lake Ontario on Labour Day weekend during the final three days of the CNE.
The CNE has operated almost every year during its 142-year history, including throughout the First World War when it staged military demonstrations and formations as part of the overall CNE experience.
In 2003, the Eastern Seaboard electrical blackout closed the exhibition for four days in August.
— With files from Nick Westoll