North American cities of the late nineteenth century, grappling with the effects of industrial capitalism and urban growth, were subject to a succession of massive social transformations. Scientific and technological advances were shifting the balance of cosmopolitan power, and people faced the challenge of comprehending and adapting to the rapidly changing social environment. In Becoming Modern in Toronto, Keith Walden shows how the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, from its founding in 1879 to 1903 (when it was renamed the Canadian National Exhibition), influenced the shaping and ordering of the emerging urban culture. Unlike other studies of its kind, it fully integrates experiences on and off the fairground by viewing the fair as a microcosm of developing structures in the city and surrounding rural areas.
The book is arranged around seven thematic elements - order, confidence, display, identity, space, entertainment, and carnival - each of which concerns the way the Exhibition contributed to a search for definition in the face of innovation. The efforts to divide existence into logical, unambiguous categories and to promote controlled conduct was, however, constantly frustrated by the novelty of the fair itself. The Exhibition presented fairgoers with new perspectives and information, while the exhibits simultaneously denied and invited their participation. Though the fair seemed to glorify professional accomplishments and legitimate Tlite leadership, it also implied that the fruits of industrial capitalist society were not exclusive. Walden concentrates on these ambiguities, revealing how the status quo was both confirmed and challenged at the fair.
Becoming Modern in Toronto takes into account a variety of social tensions and concerns that pervaded late Victorian culture. It will be compelling reading for historians, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists, as well as for those interested in the symbolic and social meaning of public festivity and its regulation.