After the success of London’s 1851 Exhibition, a glass and iron building resembling the original Crystal Palace seemed to be a requirement for any self-respecting fair. Toronto’s first version (1858) was considerably larger than competing buildings in Ottawa and other cities in Ontario. In the 19th century, agricultural and industrial fairs were expressions of progress, and a Crystal Palace was the centrepiece of this showcase of the modern world.
In Toronto, the first Crystal Palace was dismantled and most of the ironwork was incorporated in a new building east of Dufferin Street in 1878—just in time for the inaugural year of what is now the Canadian National Exhibition. It had an undeniable grandeur and its symbolic importance was assured by its use as an icon for the whole fair, its image appearing on postcards, programs, prizes and medals.
Inside the Palace were displayed an eclectic array of products: wedding cakes, pianos, firearms, artificial flowers, fishing tackle, condensed milk and tools—all randomly placed.
On October 18, 1906, a spark ignited the Crystal Palace. All efforts to save it were fruitless and it dissolved in a fearsome pyrotechnic display. The dome-topped Horticulture Building was erected the following year in its place.
By James Marsh