Kruse. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Norm Mort

Photo Gallery:
A Century of the Toronto Auto Show

Toronto, Ontario – Toronto has hosted auto shows dating back to before the turn of the 20th century. In the first seven decades, the annual auto shows were held on the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds down by the lakeshore. The first exhibition was held in 1879, but although a “horseless carriage” might be exhibited at the CNE, it wasn’t until 1897 that the automobile became one of the public exhibits. For many Canadians these were the first automobiles they had ever seen.

With more and more automobiles appearing in rural areas and on the streets of Canadian cities the CNE announced there would be a transportation display in 1903 housed in the main building. The Crystal Palace housed examples of the latest automobiles along with carriages, street car and railway exhibits.

1918 Locomobile
1918 Locomobile. Click image to enlarge

Such was the success of this newest feature of the CNE that in 1904 a large exhibit and actual demonstration of new automobiles was held in the Grandstand. This was the first time that automobiles were a separate feature at the CNE and proved to be so popular that by 1909 a Transportation Building was constructed to exhibit new automobiles and trucks.

Both the public and the automobile manufacturers from across Canada applauded the CNE for its leadership. By 1916 the automobile exhibit at the CNE had been proclaimed the National Motor Show in Canada. As well, this motor show was the first in North America to feature the latest models from automobile manufacturers around the world.

As was the case throughout North America, annual motor shows proved to be popular with the public for viewing the latest models and doing some comparison shopping. As the number of Detroit-built models, concept cars and imported cars sold in Canada increased and the automotive aftermarket expanded, so did the need for additional space to house these automobile extravaganzas.

1958 Chevrolet Impala
1958 Chevrolet Impala. Click image to enlarge

In 1929, the Automotive Building was constructed on the grounds of the CNE at a cost of $1,000,229. The new Automotive Building boasted 120,000 square feet of exhibit space on two levels. Unfortunately, the opening of the new building coincided with the crash of the stock market and the subsequent depression. There were fewer and fewer automobile manufacturers throughout the 1930s and when war broke out the shows focused mainly on military vehicles.

When the annual Motor Show returned following WWII, the crowds returned too. The show sensation for 1948 was the all-new Tucker. Its styling and design features were further proof the “Jet Age” had arrived.

The auto shows of the 1950s were much more elaborate productions filled with music and dancing to bring attention to the latest models, concept cars and modern features. More and more imported cars were arriving from France and Germany along with the already well-established British makes. Sports cars, economy cars and European luxury cars were all part of the post-war automotive marketplace.

1978 AMC Concord
1998 Audi A6 advertisement
1978 AMC Concord advertisement (top); 1998 Audi A6 advertisement. Click image to enlarge

By the 1960s even the traditional North American automakers were offering full model line-ups of compact, intermediate and full-size models as well as specialty cars such as the Thunderbird, Studebaker Avanti and later the “Pony Cars” such as the trend-setting Ford Mustang, Mercury Cougar, Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, Dodge Charger, Plymouth Barracuda and AMC Javelin. As well, the 1960s saw the beginning of the Japanese invasion from Isuzu, Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

The final year of the official Motor Show held at the CNE was 1967, although it would later be the site of special automotive attractions held elsewhere on the grounds.

The need for an official auto show did not go unnoticed. The Toronto Automobile Dealers Association decided to organize a new annual event. First known as the Toronto International Auto Show, the inaugural event in 1974 was held at the International Centre out by the airport.

The success of this first Toronto International Auto Show made this an annual event which was to continue to evolve and expand and eventually gain international status. In 1993, the Toronto International Auto Show became the Canadian International Auto Show, and by 1998 the show was being held at the Metro Convention Centre downtown.

By 1998 the Toronto International Auto Show was being held at the Metro Convention Centre downtown.

The Canadian International Auto Show was conferred official Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles (O.I.C.A.) status in 2001 and is one of only five “internationally” accredited auto shows in North America. The others are Detroit (on an annual basis), with Chicago, LA and New York having international status every three years.

Connect with