The EX – CNE Toronto 2019
It’s not just an experience – it’s a FEELING
Yes, it’s that special time of year again. As the summer comes to a close (sorry, we had to mention it) anticipation grows as Torontonians get ready for the Canadian National Exhibition (aka-CNE or The Ex). No matter what name you choose, there is often a nostalgic feel that comes along with it. Ask any Torontonian what the summer means to them. Besides the fact that it’s short-lived and humid, you will often hear a common phrase “summers are simply not complete without spending at least one day at the CNE”. And for good reasons.
It’s safe to say that most of us who were born and raised in the city, grew up with The Ex. I myself, remember my first experience very vividly, and it is deeply ingrained in my memory. I must have been no older than 10 years old, heading to the CNE with my mother, via the TTC subway. We rode in the front car, sitting right at the front seats (it’s the best view, of course). I was beyond excited, so the 30min train ride felt like an eternity! However, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was what my mother told me beforehand, which was “the food is amazing, the rides are fun, and there are A LOT of games”. I quickly found out, she was telling the truth.
In addition to the fact that I had a wonderful and positive first experience, it was the start of a feeling. A very personal and intimate feeling of what the summer signified for me. Fast forward many (many!) years later, and I still find myself visiting the CNE almost every year. Did you know that the CNE hosts 1.5 million visitors, annually? And I am certain most of them (just like me) have stories to tell, with the same nostalgic feeling.
Tell me more
The Canadian Nation Exhibition is short-lived. Some people complain that it’s not long enough, but I feel it’s one of the things that gives it appeal. This year in 2019, the CNE runs from August 16th to September 2nd. Expect to pay $35 for parking, and $19.99 for general admission (14-65yrs). Costs include ground admission and shows (games, rides, food, ect is extra). If the cost of parking is hard to swallow, you can always take the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) for $3.25 adult fare (kids are 12yrs are free).
If you’ve never been to The Ex, you’re in for a real treat (no pun intended). The Ex is famously known for a few things. If your taste buds are feeling brave, you will find lots of “exotic”, weird, and downright crazy foods and snacks. If games and prizes are your thing (gigantic Panda stuffy, anyone?), the CNE will not disappoint with hundreds of games at your fingertips.
Bringing the kids? They are sure to be entertained with plenty of rides. Have a shopping itch that needs to be scratched? That won’t be a problem with over 4000+ retail exhibitors. And we simply cannot forget to mention the MASSIVE number of vendors selling everything and anything you can think of (and can’t think of!). You are sure to feel the contagious happy vibe under the Torontonian skies.
This year, my husband and I ventured to the CNE for a fun-filled day of good weather, tasty (strange) eats, lots of laughs, and a massage chair (will explain later lol).
Now let’s get to the list …
TOP 5 THINGS WE DISCOVERED AT THE EX
- The EX is an Epic Multiculturalism Hub
- Endless Food Supply
- Cash is King at the CNE
- Good Shoes is a MUST
- Vendors and Online Businesses Galore!
1. The EX is an Epic Multiculturalism Hub
The CNE – “Canada’s largest community event and one of the top agricultural fairs in North America” – is located in Toronto, Ontario. With a population of 2.8 million, Toronto is considered to be one of the most diverse cities in the entire world. Enter through the tall gates, and you will automatically notice people from all different social and ethnic backgrounds. At The Ex, everyone is welcome and discrimination is non-existent.
The welcoming atmosphere is extremely apparent when visiting the International Pavillion. This marketplace is MASSIVE, coming in at around 110,000 square feet. If you really want to absorb everything this market has to offer, be prepared to walk (a lot). Featuring “treasures” from all around the world, you will see a vast assortment of clothing, food, jewellery, hand-made crafts, furniture, statues (just to name a few!). I was particularly biased towards the cool Egyptian booth. I mean, who could resist a small Pyramid figurine? Actually, my husband is Egyptian, and so I regard Egypt as my second home.
After all that walking, you might have worked up quite an appetite. Experience “tastes around the world” at the Toronto Star Food Building. Resembling a giant food court with at least 100 food stands, you can choose from a variety of international cuisines such as Indian, Lebanese, and Jamaican. The food building accommodates all food preferences, including vegan, halal, and gluten-free. Which then leads me to number 2 …
2. Endless Food Supply
CNE is undoubtedly known for its’ food, food, and more food. Did we mention food? The grounds are literally swarmed with food stands, food trucks, and food vendors, selling any type of food you can dream of. It can be pretty overwhelming, but also mesmerizing (and mouth-watering!). I wish I was exaggerating here. In fact, you won’t be able to walk 10 feet without coming across a delectable treat. Speaking of which, every year the CNE introduces a new list of “crazy” foods. Some of the foods on the wacky list includes cotton candy tacos, apple cheesecake poutine, frozen spaghetti, pickle pizza, and pickle lemonade. If you’re feeling adventurous and looking to stimulate your taste buds, you’ve found the right place to do it.
Everyone who visits the CNE on the regular, has at least one or two (or three+) food items that they MUST eat before the day ends – NO EXEPTIONS. This is serious stuff, people. With that said, you will come across people that fit into one of these 3 categories, without fail:
- THE REGULARS (aka- boring eaters) – they will eat the same food every year, and only indulge in the foods they know and prefer. They are not up for trying new foods. They take the safe and comfortable route.
- THE EXTREMISTS (aka- yolo eaters) – you know that “wacky” food list? It has their name on it. They make it a life mission to try every single weird food available to them. They will often be found in large groups (they need lots and lots of witnesses, pics, and vids).
- THE BALANCERS (aka- cool eaters) – they will always eat their favourite treats, while introducing 1 or 2 new foods that they haven’t tried before. The new foods may or may not be on the crazy food list. They like to live on the edge, but only a little.
If you’re wondering what we ate, our menu consisted of: corn dogs, curly fries, Jamaican Jerk chicken and rice, waffle ice cream, Krispy Kreme donut burger, Tiny Toms donuts, chicken fingers on a stick, and pickle pizza. My husband and I shared and
sampled everything! It feels good to know I’m partnered with another foodie. So, I have a food confession to make. Every visit to the CNE must include my absolute favourite waffle ice cream ( I WILL NOT leave the premises until I get it). Every other food is negotiable, however I do like to indulge in new foods that tickle my fancy. This year, it was the pickle pizza and donut burger.
The pickle pizza is actually delicious, believe it or not. The fusion of flavours worked extremely well, and the dough was INCREDIBLE. The donut burger, you ask? Meh, not a big fan. First off, we found the Krispy Crème donuts to be stale (you know stale buns ruin the entire burger). The burger patty was very tasty, however it was overshadowed by the sweet, sticky, stale donuts. I am all for sweet and salty mixes, but this one was an epic fail. Sorry.
One last word of caution: be prepared with comfortable clothing (you will regret tight waistbands) AND cash. Unfortunately, the majority of the food trucks, vendors, and stands, only take cash as a form of payment. Which the leads me to number #3 …
3. Cash is King at the CNE
If you hate carrying cash these days, you better love it at the CNE. One unfortunate thing we encountered was the lack of interact machines in the Toronto Start Food Building, and most of the food stands/trucks. You will see signs that say ‘Cash only’. This includes all the games (unless you purchase ticket coupons). It would not have been such a big deal, except for the fact that we didn’t expect it and were clearly unprepared. Luckily, you will find plenty of ATM machines around, so no worries. However, keep in mind the ATM fees have a charge of $4. Bringing cash with you before you enter the CNE grounds, and avoiding the ATM machines, would be the better (cheaper) option.
Speaking of money, unless you plan on just walking the grounds without spending a dime, the CNE can get quite costly (this does not including the entrance fee or parking). The truth is, the temptation to buy is high. There is just so much to see and do (and eat!) that it can be easy to get carried away. Be warned – the indoor and outdoor markets and shopping pavillions can be a dangerous trap for shopping.
And it starts out quite innocently.
You will go into one of the buildings with no expectation to buy – simply to just “look around”. And before you know it, you have decided a jacuzzi is a necessity in your life, and you must own one. We didn’t get a jacuzzi (maybe next time) but we DID end up buying a massage chair pad. I mean, can you really blame us? Those things are life-changing.
You probably won’t end up buying a massage chair, but the odds of spending money on food is pretty big. An average meal at the Toronto Star Food Building is $10 or more. Even a “cheaper” alternative like pizza or fries, can set you back $8. Treats and snacks from the outdoor food trucks or stands are also around $6-$10. A bottle of water or pop is $4. The point here is, it all adds up pretty fast if you’re like us and eager to sample all the goodies.
4. Good Shoes is a MUST
We arrived at the CNE at 12:15pm, and didn’t leave until 7:30pm. During these 7 1/2 hours, we did a whopping 22,000 steps! (the step counter watch does not lie). It was safe to say we walked the entire CNE grounds more than once. We even ventured to Ontario Place, just to get a breather from the congestion of people and noises.
The weather at this time of year in Toronto is very warm and sometimes extremely humid, so you will want to dress appropriately. The best attire will be light and comfortable, with REALLY GOOD walking or running shoes. If you plan on spending the day here, it is an absolute certainty that you WILL be walking A LOT. The last thing you want is a painful foot blister or rash, or even Plantar fasciitis. This will literally ruin your entire day, so be wise with your shoe choices!
By the end of the day, we were completely exhausted. Our lower body had gotten a nice little workout, but it was sore as heck! It’s been 3 days since then, and we’re still recovering. Bottom line: WEAR GOOD SHOES.
5. Vendors and Online Businesses Galore!
The number of vendors or “Retail Exhibitors” this year was astonishing! The Ex featured 4000+ vendors, located in several indoor pavillions (buildings) and outdoor markets. Most of the vendors were “small businesses”, offering unique products or services. They seemed to project a very outgoing, friendly, and social vibe. However, some of them were a little “pushy”, and very eager to sell their merchandise. Nonetheless, we found it extremely enjoyable to walk amongst these lanes of small shops, browsing the plethora of goods. We would most definitely agree this was our favourite thing at the CNE.
Upon speaking with some of the vendors, we learned that more than half of them did not have a website for their business! This is an astonishing figure, considering online precense is EVERYTHING in this day and age. Let’s put it this way, if you’re not selling/promoting your business online in 2019 and beyond, you are really missing out. We then asked if they were interested in or would consider having a website for their business. Most of them expressing similar concerns “I don’t want to be bothered” “it’s too hard to maintain or update” or “we don’t understand how it works”. These are all legitimate concerns. For a new (or even existing) business owner embarking on the first website journey, it can be overwhelming and even daunting.
Then we started explaining to them how easy the process can be if you choose a good website design and development company. Not to mention how relaxed you can be once the website is live, with a company that “has your back”. Rest assured, Kings Of The Web is that company – we take care of everything! And so a lot of the vendors we spoke with got very hopeful and excited. Some of them even signed up for a website package, and others promised to sign up once they had more free time, after the CNE was closed. All in all, we were happy to spread the word about Kings of the Web; we are proud of our website design and website development company, and we have A LOT to offer!
Sure we bought a massage chair pad (don’t judge), but we came out with so much more. If you’re a business that does not have a website, we encourage you to consider (or reconsider). We simply cannot stress this enough, ONLINE PRESENCE IS EVERYTHING in this digital age. There can never be enough exposure for your products and/or services, and the internet is THE BEST platform for it.
That’s a wrap, folks! We look forward to CNE 2020, with new foods, new fun, and a new top 5 list.
And here is an extra goodie – A 10 mins footage of our cne toronto 2019 tour