Organizers of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) say the future of the Toronto fair is in doubt after cancelling this year's event resulted in a $6 million loss.
In a news release issued Thursday, organizers said the CNE suffered a "significant financial loss" after cancelling the 18-day event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"On any other Labour Day weekend, the CNE would typically be drawing out record crowds during its final stretch, packed with visitors soaking in the last days of summer and Air Show fans lining the lakeshore," the news release read.
According to those who put on the annual event, the CNE saw an estimated 95 per cent drop in projected revenue, "conservatively totalling" more than $35 million in lost earnings as a result of the cancellation.
The popular fair, which is held each summer on the grounds of Exhibition Place, has only ever been cancelled once before in its 142-year history as a result of the Second World War.
The CNE Association (CNEA), a non-profit organization responsible for running the event, is calling for government support to ensure the fair can continue in future years.
"Government relief programs have largely excluded fairs, exhibitions, and agricultural societies, and have not considered the unique challenges of our industry – most important of which is that fairs rely on 90+ per cent of its annual revenue on a few days or months of the year," Darrell Brown, the executive director of the CNE, said in a written statement.
“Basic business sense should guide government policy. Allocating a grant of $6 million to help the CNE produce an event that generates $128 million dollars to the province annually, is a sound investment when you consider the greater gain to the regional economy and tourism; saving 5000 seasonal jobs, many of which support youth; and the artists, vendors and businesses that benefit.”
Organizers said the CNE is working to secure a business loan to "bridge the financial gap," adding that the CNEA would not be able to manage its annual operating costs through 2021 without borrowing the cash.
John Kiru the president of the CNEA, said the pandemic's full impact on CNE finances is "still uncertain," adding that financial struggles are likely to persist as public health restrictions on large-scale gatherings continue.
Organizers have indicated that they believe with the "investment (the CNE) hopes to receive this year" along with strong attendance at next year's event, the 2021 season will be a "successful" one.
Speaking with reporters during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford hinted that his government would be willing to come to the table to help save the CNE if needed.
“It has been around for 100 and some odd years. Everyone has gone to the CNE. I am willing to help out and if the city is willing to help out and we get the feds to help out we can all just pitch in because it is critical we keep the CNE going,” he said. “Every single one of us, old guys like myself, remember going down to the CNE with $5 or $10 and you would be down there all day. You would get that 25 cent spaghetti and the Double Bubble bubble gum in the food court. So it was fun and we need to help it. It is something we can’t let go off.”
The CNE is one of the largest fairs in North America and typically sees more than 1.4 million visitors each year.
Next year’s fair is scheduled to run from August 20 to September 6.