The principal tenants of Exhibition Stadium were the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Over the years, the venue hosted legendary entertainers and military parades.
The original Grandstand at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds was built in 1879, had a seating capacity of 5,000 and hosted horse racing, stage shows, sporting events, fireworks displays, livestock judging and other fair events. The centrepiece of the annual Exhibition, it was rebuilt and expanded in 1892 to a 10,000 seat structure (above right). In 1906, the Grandstand was destroyed by fire. In 1907, architect G.W. Gouinlock's 16,400-seat Grandstand was completed (below). The annual CNE events continued at the Grandstand for four decades, until another fire destroyed the structure in 1946.
Once again, a new Grandstand was built. Architect Marani and Morris and general contractor Pigott Construction
created a magnificent, modern structure. Seating capacity was 20, 633 in the 800 foot 75 foot high Grandstand. All sorts of first-rate events took place at the CNE Grandstand. Auto racing, track and field, concerts, stage
shows and circuses drew thousands to the seats at the Exhibition throughout the fifties.
In 1959, a south grandstand was added which allowed for the professional football Argonauts to move from Varsity Stadium to the Ex. The south bleachers added 12, 472 seats to the stadium, bringing total capacity to 33,135. That autumn, Exhibition Stadium hosted its first Grey Cup game. A capacity crowd saw Bud Grant's Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeat the Hamilton Tiger Cats 21-7. The same two sides met up in Toronto in 1961 and again in 1962. Both times, the Bombers walked off the field as champions, beating Hamilton 21-14 and 28-27 in the famous 'Mud Bowl' game. In all, five Grey Cup games were played at Exhibition Stadium in the 1960's, none featuring the hometown Argos. Two more CFL championships would be won at the Ex before it was expanded for baseball. In 1970, Montreal defeated Calgary 23-10. In 1973, more than 36,000 fans saw Ottawa earn the title over Edmonton 22-18.
By 1974, the ever-present talk of bringing a Major League baseball club to Toronto suddenly became serious.
Metro Toronto council approved a plan to renovate Exhibition Stadium to allow for baseball. The existing
south-side bleachers would be demolished and replaced with a long L-shaped structure that would wrap around
the baseball infield and extend down the football sideline (below). The North Grandstand would remain and be
used as the left-field baseball bleachers. The new stadium was completed at a cost of $17.8 Million, financed by Metropolitan Toronto and a loan from the province. The Monsanto Astroturf playing surface was the largest in North America at 160,000 square feet. 20 giant light standards, each 180 feet high, surrounded the south
grandstand and provided 250 foot-candles of illumination on the infield. The height of the stadium at the outside wall behind home plate was 65 feet. A far cry from modern parks, Exhibition Stadium had only 14 private club boxes.
The retrofit was completed in 1976, the same year the American League awarded an expansion franchise to
Toronto. The new bleachers had a capacity of 33,061 bringing the total number of seats in the stadium to 54,264. In November of that year, the Ottawa Rough Riders won another Grey Cup when they beat Saskatchewan 23-20.
One of the most dominant teams in CFL history, the Edmonton Eskimos, won the last three Grey Cup games ever
played at Exhibition Stadium. All three games drew more than capacity crowds. After beating Montreal 20-13 in
1978, the Esks trounced Hamilton 48-10 in 1980. The Toronto Argos finally played a Grey Cup game at home in
1982. On November 28, 54,741 fans braved a frigid rainstorm. The hometown team was no match for the Eskimos,
who captured their fifth consecutive championship 32-16. It was the last time the Canadian football championship would be contested at Exhibition Stadium, and the awful weather in Toronot's showcase sporting event may have been the deciding factor in the city and province's choice to finally build their domed stadium.
On April 7, 1977 the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game at Exhibition Stadium. A snowfall covered the
entire field, but more than 44,000 fans braved freezing temperatures to witness the historic event. Bill Singer threw out the first pitch, a strike, and the Blue Jays defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-5. It was one of the few highlights that year, as the Blue Jays would lose 107 games that first season.
An electronic scoreboard, built by Stewart-Warner, was added in 1978. It measured 131 feet wide and 41 feet
high. One feature unique to Exhibition Stadium is that it was the only ballpark in all of major league baseball where the bleacher seats were covered and the rest were not. The old North Grandstand seats were plastic, while those in the new south stands were aluminum. Not all the seats in the south complex had backs either. 12 of the 32 sections had long aluminum benches, not individual chairs.
The next few years were not much better and the club lost over three hundred games in its first three seasons. By the second half of the 1981 season, the young talent was starting to show but wins were still scarce. In 1982, the Jays tied for 6th place in the Eastern Division marking the first time in franchise history that they did not finish last. The next season was one of the most exciting in Blue Jays history as the team had its first winning season with 89 wins and 73 losses. The club enjoyed time in first place for part of the summer but faded towards the end of the year.
In 1984, more than two million fans made their way to Exhibition Stadium and the Jays finished second to the
Detroit Tigers. One year later, the Jays won their first division title winning 99 games for first place. It was the glory years for baseball at the CNE. The Blue Jays consistently had some of the best attendance in the majors and the team compiled winning seasons in each of its last seven years before moving to SkyDome.
On Canada Day, 1987, the Blue Jays and Yankees hosted the largest baseball crowd in the history of Exhibition
Stadium. Later that season, Toronto set a record by hitting ten home runs in a single game.
On May 28, 1989, the last ever baseball game was played at the stadium. It ended in dramatic fashion, as George Bell, one of the greatest players in Blue Jays history, smashed a game-winning home run in the bottom of the tenth inning to give the Jays a 7-5 win over the Chicago White Sox, the same team that help open the stadium for baseball back in 1977.
Courtesy of North Grandstand
November 10, 2000
What was once one of Canada's premier sports and entertainment venues, is no more. The former home of the Toronto Argonauts and Toronto Blue Jays has been reduced to a pile of rubble.
About 100 people were on hand at Exhibition Stadium Sunday morning when it imploded. It was the final phase of the demolition of the stadium at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Dozens of explosive charges were strategically placed around the concrete stadium, seating and grandstand.
The stadium seats were sold months ago. Just the concrete and the metal girders were left.