COVID-19 forces Canadian National Exhibition to cancel 2020 fair

The cancellation of the annual summer event marks the first time since the Second World War that Canada's largest fair will not be held.

Last time the annual summer event was cancelled? The Second World War

The annual event is Canada's largest fair, generating some $128 million for Ontario's economy and attracting more than 1.4 million visitors each year. (Ed Middleton/CBC News)

The Canadian National Exhibition has cancelled its 2020 event, marking the first time since the Second World War that Canada's largest fair will not be held.

The annual fair had been scheduled to run from Aug. 21 to Sept. 7 at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

"Safety always comes first at the CNE, and the decision to cancel our event is the right decision during this critical time to protect the health of all Canadians," said John Kiru, president of the Canadian National Exhibition Association, in a statement.

"We stand in solidarity with the collective effort to curb this global pandemic, and we will all do our part to ensure it happens."

Kiru said the decision was made on May 7 in collaboration with provincial and municipal governments.

The Canadian International Air Show has also cancelled its 2020 show, which typically takes place on Labour Day weekend during the final three days of the CNE.

"These are some of the sacrifices that we're facing as a society," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a Tuesday news conference.

"We all grew up there," said Ford, as he recounted long days spent at the CNE when he was a young man. "I'm going to miss it."

Toronto Mayor John Tory also lauded organizers for making the "responsible choice." 

Organizers say the CNE generates $128 million for the Ontario economy each year and attracts more than 1.4 million visitors.

The fair also helps employ more than 5,000 seasonal workers during its run.

Tory acknowledged the loss to the local economy, but also said an off-year provides an "opportunity to reimagine" the CNE.

"I'd like to see something that goes back to the roots of the original CNE," he said, describing the fair's earlier days, when it served as an exposition of the latest in Canadian innovations, technology and agriculture.

Tory lamented the emergence of outrageous, decadent food as one of the event's defining characteristics in recent years.

"It's great fun to have the double waffle, double patty, bacon jam, cognac maple syrup burger, but at the end of the day, we're much more than that," he said.

The CNE has been increasingly known for its novelty food offerings, such as this 'rainbow' grilled cheese sandwich from the 2019 fair. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The annual fair, in its many incarnations, has been a staple of Toronto summers nearly every year since its first edition in 1879.

The CNE was last cancelled when the fairgrounds were converted to a military training and recruitment centre from 1942 to 1945.

The event remained closed in 1946 to allow time for the military to move out.

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