fairground camp

Old fountain CNE grounds

That summer that war was declared the Canadian National Exhibition was not cancelled, indeed it seemed to spill over into the late fall period when the livestock shows, art exhibitions and mid-way attractions gave way to another kind of spectacle.

Cavalry training CNE grounds

The following article published on page 8 of The Toronto Daily Star on  November 18, 1914 was not accompanied by illustrations. However, in the City of Toronto Archives are a number of photographs and two lantern slides by William James that cover the same story. Here are the complementary visual and text descriptions of the military training camp at the CNE published together for the first time.

ROWS OF BUNKS FILL BUILDINGS AT EXHIBITION—Every Possible Comfort Devised for the Men of Second Contingent—EVERYTHING KEPT IN GOOD ORDER—Huge Array of Pots and Pans To Provide Meals for Hungry Men—

A startling change has come over the Exhibition Grounds.  Gone are the flags, the streamers, and the lights.  Gone are the aimless, straggling crowds.  The November wind sweeps off the lake on to the bare, desolate buildings.  In strange contrast to the erstwhile pleasure-seekers are the squads of stiffly drilling soldiers.  To revisit the grounds now is like revisiting a ball-room to find it transformed into a machine shop.

Troops Leave CNE Camp through Dufferin GatesTroops Leave CNE Camp Dufferin Gates

Bayonet Drill, CNE military camp b Bayonet Drill, CNE military campGuarding Gates at CNE military training camp Guarding Gates at CNE military camp

Soldiers marching CNE camp Soldiers marching CNE camp

Two thousand five hundred soldiers of the second Canadian contingent are quartered at the grounds. All the big buildings are turned into barracks.  Hundreds of bunks fill the spacious Government Building.  The Art Gallery is the field post-office and reading room.  The Graphic Arts Building is the officers’ quarters.  From main entrance to the furthest end of the stables back of the Midway, every available foot of space is occupied or in preparation for drilling, and its generous roofed space for quartering the men.   It makes an ideal barracks.

Bunks in Brick Buildings.

The bigger and loftier buildings such as the Machinery Hall, Transportation, the Education and the Dog Show, on account of their light construction, are being used only as drill halls, owing to the difficulty of heating them.

But all the brick buildings of sturdier make are occupied.   Coal stoves are used a-plenty to warm the buildings, there being a stove for every three sets of bunks in the barracks.   Each building has been newly furnished with plumbing and sewage works, and a special corps of engineers have the care of the heating and plumbing, carpentering, and jobbing as their duties.  There is comfort and convenience in the Exhibition camp, governed, of course, by the economy peculiar to military things.   For instance, the bunks are built in squares of eight, four above and four below.   Seen stripped of their mattresses and blankets, these bunks look like huge packing cases made of slats.   In the Poultry Building, Horticultural Building, and Government Building there are hundreds of these bunks, each bunk section of eight being separated to leave corridors throughout.  Stoves set all along the side aisles keep the airy big buildings quite warm.

45.14 barracks at Exhibition Camp-page-001  45.14 barracks at Exhibition Camp

Everything Neatly Kept.

These three bunk buildings present a fine sight.   Blankets neatly folded, garments and kit-bags hanging on rails on the bunks, and each man’s rifle neatly racked beside his pillow.  Acres, literally, of these bunks, some with men resting in them, most of them empty.  The rooms are scrupulously clean.  The wash-rooms are furnished simply with long two-sided troughs, a tap for every two men, and towels numerous.

The Queen’s Own and some of the Halmilton regiment occupy the Government Building. The Horticultural houses the rest of the Infantry. The Poultry Building houses the Mounted Rifles, many of whom are yet to come, and the big main building of the stables is the quarters of the Highlanders, who are handy to Stanley Barracs, where they are on duty.  The camp hospital is situated in the wooden stables at the eastern end, back of the Midway. In the Administration Building, with its office conveniences, is found the Headquarters of the camp—the business office.

Some idea of the worldlier side of the camp can be gathered from a look into the building just behind the Graphic Arts.  It is piled ceiling high with huge sides of bacon, bags of flour, hams, cans of egg-crates; and, in a room adjoining the stores, tons of shirts and coats, socks, and caps. The 2,500 men of the camp are continually visiting this giant dry-goods emporium for their outfits. A regular staff is kept busy handing out the goods.

Quick-firing gun practise, Livestock Building CNE camp Quick-firing gun practice, Livestock Building, CNE camp

Feeding the Hungry.

In the basements of the three big bunk buildings are the kitchens and mess-rooms. Some idea of the meaning of the expression—“cooking for an army,” can be got here.  Such pots and cauldrons such boilers and pans are rarely seen in this city of homes and small families. The Army Service men, who have to cook three times 2,500 square meals a day, and to wash three times 2,500 cups, plates, knives, forks, and spoons, seem to be never idle.

While the Exhibition camper is up at 6 in the morning and drilling most of the day, he is not entirely a machine, and his recreation is not neglected.  The east half of the Arts Building is the recreation room. Here the men of the second contingent are found reading, writing home yarning around the big stove, or just smoking and listening to the piano or phonograph.   A newly received record, by the way, is an event at camp.   In the back corridor of the building is the canteen, where the men may get a hot-dog or some ginger ale. It is indeed, the only spot on the whole grounds that has the slightest resemblance to Exhibition.

45.13 Exhibition Camp, recruits 1914-page-001 45.13 Exhibition Camp recruits, 1914Military training camp sing-song Military training camp sing-songSoldiers listening to phonograph, Livestock Building CNE camp Soldiers listening to phonograph, Livestock Building CNE camp

CNE camp canteen CNE camp canteen

Opportunity For Rifle Practice.

Under the Grand Stand are the target-practice galleries, where the men shoot at short-range with miniature ammunition.  The Dairy Building is now the Brotherhood headquarters, another recreation and canteen room, capable of entertaining a crowd.   Sunday services are held in the Transportation Building.

Examining targets, CNE camp  Examining targets, CNE camp

Divine service Divine service

So the 2,500 men are comfortable and as busy and contented as bees. They are up at 6 a.m., have breakfast at 7.15, drill at 9, lunch at one, supper at six, lights out at 10.15 p.m.   There are some pipers from Hamilton who skirl around the camp.  And it would do the heart of many a finger-weary knitter good to see a squad of two hundred men drilling, in the cold, fresh wind of the lake, wearing their Baklava caps.

Soldiers drill with guns, CNE camp Soldiers drill with guns, CNE campCNE camp barracks before lights out CNE camp barracks before lights out

2nd overseas contingent marching CNE camp 2nd overseas contingent marching CNE camp

The whole camp is trim, plain, and wholesome.   No luxuries—but luxuries are not in the training of men who are eager for the nearing day, when hardy and hearty, they are off to the front.


While not mentioned in the article, James documented the camp hangers-on who scavenged for souvenir bullets among the targets.                                                  Retrieving spent bullets from targets, CNE camp Retrieving spent bullets from gun targets, CNE camp

Joe Martin and used bullets Joe Martin and used bullets

The previous weekend’s picture supplement ran a photo feature highlighting drills and the and constant activity required to keep warm on the wind-whipped lakeside grounds.

Mobilization of Central Ontario s Part of the Second Contingent at the Exhibition Grounds, Nov. 14, 1914 p.10-page-001 “Mobilization of Central Ontario s Part of the Second Contingent at the Exhibition Grounds”, Star Nov. 14, 1914 p.10

Recruits Leapfrogging CNE camp    Recruits Leapfrogging CNE camp

Roll-call CNE camp Roll-call CNE camp

In stark contrast to the images of uniformed men in synchronized actions reveling in the camaraderie of the camp, those identified and held there as “enemy aliens” were photographed as solitary and forlorn figures behind a high barbed wire fence.

German prisoners of war in CNE compound a German prisoners of war in CNE compound

German prisoners of war in CNE compound b German prisoners of war in CNE compound

To learn more about their imprisonment at Stanley Barracks read David Wencer’s Historicist article by clicking here.


market square, November 8

fairground camp market square 5fairground camp market square 4


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  1. Pingback: Camp Hospital 1 | Percy's War

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