Many of us living in Toronto will see, and hear, parts of the annual CNE air show for free. You could pay admission to the Canadian National Exhibition, and watch the sky above the lake from anywhere in Exhibition Place that’s not obstructed by the midway rides. Or pay a bit more for VIP seating for the Toronto air show?
But what if you want to see the Toronto CNE Air Show free? Here are my suggestions. Please remember to stand clear of the bike paths while you watch! (And don’t even think of just stopping your car on a street or highway… or trying to watch while driving).
- “Map of Waterfront Toronto Parks Nearest the CNE” image by Mike DeHaan via Google Maps
See the CNE Air Show from the Nearest Parks
Please refer to the above map. The Air Show VIP seating, and the CNE, are marked with pink. Recommend parks have blue circles.
Let’s start with the nearest parks bordering on Lake Ontario that are west of the CNE and Ontario Place.
Marilyn Bell Park for the Toronto air show
Marilyn Bell Park is closest to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. The easternmost part of Marilyn Bell Park will be reserved for VIP seating for the air show. Toronto does have other parks farther west; Sunnyside Park is the most familiar name.
The best way to get to Marilyn Bell Park is to bicycle along the Martin Goodman Trail. I would take the TTC using the 508 Lake Shore, 504 King or 501 Queen streetcars. The TTC route guide would suggest then taking the 29 Dufferin bus to the CNE grounds, but you’re trying to avoid paying to get in there.
Sometimes Marilyn Bell Park becomes a parking lot for itinerant CNE staff – those folk who travel with the midway rides – so I hesitate to recommend this venue as the absolute best bet. It certainly is very close, and would have great sightlines.
Battery Park, Coronation Park and Stadium Road South Park
Battery Park and Coronation Park are east of Ontario Place and the Canadian National Exhibition, but also on the water’s edge. Once you are in those parks, head south to be as close to Lake Ontario as possible, but please don’t block the bike trails.
The TTC’s advice is to take the bus replacing the 509 Harbourfront streetcar to Strachan, or Fleet Street at Bastion Street (near Fort York). Walk south to cross Lake Shore Blvd at a traffic light, and enter Coronation Park. (Battery Park is just west of the driveway that looks like an extension of Strachan, that forms the western boundary of Coronation Park).
Again, the best approach is to bike along the Martin Goodman Trail into Coronation Park. That trail disappears along much Queen’s Quay, where it is simply part of the curb lane. Unfortunately, in 2014, Queen’s Quay is under construction. It may be wisest to cycle along King St. and turn south on Strachan.
A little further east, you could walk to the foot of Stadium Road, south of the western end of Queen’s Quay. Stadium Road South Park is tucked against the western channel, facing Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands. It’s just south-west of Little Norway Park as seen in the first map.
These three parks top my list for seeing the Toronto CNE air show.
Can You Watch CNE Airshow 2014 from Centre Island?
Yes, you can watch the 2014 CNE airshow from Centre Island, at the cost of a ferry ticket. That’s why the map has a red circle around “Toronto Islands” and “Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport”.
On the other hand, the sight lines are superb, and the setting is excellent. As well, fewer tourists are likely to visit Centre Island during the CNE.
(Added Aug. 30, 2014): Thanks to alert reader Nadia M. for suggesting that Hanlan’s Point Beach on the Toronto Islands has great sight lines towards the CNE and Ontario Place. Take the “Hanlan’s Point Ferry” from the Toronto Island Ferry dock at the foot of Bay St. You reach the island just south of the east-most end of Billy Bishop Airport. Follow Lakeshore Ave. south until you can cut across to the beach on the west side. It’s actually labelled (by Google) on the above map. Just remember that Hanlan’s Point Beach is “clothing optional” by City of Toronto bylaw! Some folks may have trouble keeping “their eyes to the skies”.
See the CNE Air Show from Parks to the East
- “Map of Waterfront Toronto Parks East of the CNE” image by Mike DeHaan via Google Maps
Another option for seeing the CNE Toronto air show is to go further east.
Clark Beach Park, aka Cherry Beach for the CNE Toronto air show
Since Clark Beach Park is at the foot of Cherry Street, it’s often called “Cherry Beach”. The beach boasts a change room, sand and wooded parkland. The T&T Grocery store is just up Cherry Street, so you don’t need to plan and pack your picnic lunch.
It’s a convenient destination for car drivers. Turn south from Lake Shore Blvd East onto Cherry Street; free parking starts after you reach the driveway at the end of the road. But be sure to only park in designated areas; I’ve heard of people getting tickets for parking on the grass. Also, nearby street parking is reserved for tour buses.
(Added later on Aug. 25, 2014): The 172B Cherry St bus loops the traffic circle at Clark Beach Park, and returns to the Line 1 subway at King and St. Andrews stations. The 172A bus only goes as far south as Commissioner’s St, but it’s a pleasant 1Km walk down Cherry St. and across the lift bridge to the beach. And you can gaze with anticipation at the Cirque du Soleil’s tents, just recently raised at the corner of Commissioner’s and Cherry.
In August 2014, Leslie Street is closed at Commissioner’s; so don’t try driving along Leslie to reach Clark Beach Park.
Again, Clark Beach Park is on the Martin Goodman Trail, so it’s an excellent cycling option. The bike path is still open along Leslie.
Tommy Thompson Park, aka Leslie Street Spit for the Long View of the CNE Air Show
One year, my wife and I walked through Tommy Thompson Park from the foot of Leslie Street until we had an unimpeded view towards Ontario Place. We did have a clear view of the CNE air show, but it was a bit far to really appreciate without binoculars. (In Aug. 2014, Amazon.ca has a few Celestron 71256 UpClose 10×50 Binoculars in stock. That’s their most popular model, with a 4.6/5 rating over 25 customers.).
Tommy Thompson Park, better known as the Leslie Street Spit, is open to the public on weekends. Park your car at Leslie and Unwin, if the small number of spaces just inside the park aren’t already in use. Again, cycling is the best option to reach the park and to reach the western shore. It’s about 5Km from the park entrance, at the north-east, to the lighthouse at the western tip of the Spit.
The western tip of Tommy Thompson Park is almost as close to the CNE as Clark Beach Park.
When is the 2014 Canadian National Exhibition Toronto Air Show?
The Toronto CNE Air Show runs during the Labour Day holiday weekend. In 2014, the shows are scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday afternoons, from 1-4pm. Expect some excitement Friday Aug. 29 between 10am-2pm for the pilots to practice. (Updated Aug. 29, 2014 because I inexcusably missed “Monday”).
The performance centres on the southern tip of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, but generally planes approach and depart along Toronto’s lakefront.
References for this Canadian National Exhibition Toronto Air Show Article
I found the VIP seating information for the Canadian National Exhibition Toronto Air Show on the Canadian International Air Show FAQ web page. The Toronto Transit Commission web site includes maps and a “trip planner” facility. Finally, Google Maps Canada and the MilerMeter (Gmaps-Pedometer) supplied the basic mapping images (which I marked up) and distance information.
Looking for More Annual Events or a Holiday in Toronto Canada?
My blog highlights many of the annual Toronto events that I find interesting; especially for free or frugal things to do in Toronto. For example, last year I wrote “Enjoy the CNE on the Cheap in 2013“. Most of the advice still holds, except for some details on the exact admission prices. Just remember to buy your tickets before opening day!
(Added Aug. 29, 2014): For example, our family used to visit Marineland Niagara Falls during the CNE Air Show weekend, because so many tourists were drawn into Toronto. Americans looking for “Marineland Canada” should visit on the Labor Day weekend for this very reason: the Marineland rides are much less crowded, especially first thing in the morning. (Only in recent years has the controversy over Marineland’s treatment of its marine mammals become a hot issue. I’m not sure whether I’d go back, even for the roller coaster).
Disclaimer: DeHaan Services has no relationship to the organizer(s); I am not reimbursed for writing this article. However, DeHaan Services does write web site or advertising copy for clients. Our skills are demonstrated in online articles in Decoded Science, Decoded Pregnancy and other online sites.
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Thanks for learning how to see the Toronto CNE Air Show free.