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Civic Pride: Toronto’s CNE flagpole

May 12, 2012

In 1929 JG Robson donated one of his famous ‘big sticks’ to be a flagpole at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. A Douglas Fir tree, “most sturdy and true,” was cut down on the Vancouver Island timber limits of Timberland and prepared for shipment at the Timberland mill at South Westminster. Trimmed and cut to size it measured 184 feet long, with a diameter of 34 inches at the base, tapering to 10 inches at the tip
The spar required special handling and was floated from Fraser River to Vancouver where it was loaded aboard the SS Canadian Ranger at Burrard drydock in Vancouver on top of a shipment of lumber, its length exceeding that of the vessel. It was shipped free of charge by the Canadian National steamship line via the Panama Canal and St Lawrence River to Montreal and thence to Toronto.

On arrival the pole was trumpeted with typical Toronto vanity as the “World’s Largest Flagpole,” but this had to be corrected in deference to the 220-foot flagstaff at Kew Gardens in the UK — also from British Columbia. Toronto’s became “the premier flagpole of the ‘World’s Largest Annual Fair.”

The pole garnered a lot of publicity for Timberland and the shipping companies and was the object of numerous press reports of its progress to Toronto and its erection and prominence as an attraction at the CNE. The pole needed a year of seasoning, but even lying on the ground it attracted admiration from fairgoers in 1929


Raising the Timberland Lumber Company flagpole at the CNE, Toronto, 1930 –Toronto Archives

The pole, now dubbed by the Toronto press “the highest one-piece flagpole on the North American continent,” was erected in August 1930. A concrete base added an extra 4-feet to the height of the pole.

James Gow and Sons, WS Gow and Athol Gow, formerly of New Westminster, donated a two-foot copper ball as a time capsule that was placed at the top of the flagstaff. Sporting a giant 30-foot Union Jack, the Timberland-produced flagstaff proved an awe-inspiring attraction at the CNE of 1930 and featured in the opening and closing ceremonies.

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