The Fair at the PNE: A Vancouver Tradition in Hastings Park
The Pacific National Exhibition or PNE
The Pacific National Exhibition or PNE is an organization that holds a popular summer fair in Vancouver, British Columbia. The fair began in 1910 and is still going strong. Many people in Vancouver and the surrounding communities look forward to the annual event and have done so for many years. Visiting the fair is one of their summer traditions.
At heart, the PNE fair has always been an agricultural event, but today it's much more than this. In addition to farm animal displays and 4H competitions, the fair includes events such as the Peking Acrobats show, the SuperDogs show, the RCMP Musical Ride, the Pacific Spirit Horse Show, and a variety of musical performances. The fairground contains exhibits, food stands, a marketplace, and an amusement park called Playland.
The fair runs for the last two weeks of August. The final day of the event is always Labour Day, which is the first Monday in September. Visiting the fairground is a fun way to celebrate the last part of summer. Except for the photo above, all of the photos in this article were taken by me during my visits to the fair in multiple years.
The PNE fair is held in Hastings Park in east Vancouver. The fairground is known as the Pacific National Exhibition, just like the organization that runs the fair.
The SuperDogs Show
The SuperDogs show is always a crowd favourite. Like the other performances at the fair, the show is free to attend (except for the price of the fair gate pass). The event is an agility competition presented in a show style and contains comedy as well as athletic dog feats. Coloured lights, music, and audience participation are part of the event.
The personalities of the people and dogs involved in the SuperDogs show are a big part of its success. The dogs have a wide range of sizes and appearances, which adds to the fun. About forty percent of them were rescued and adopted. It's nice to see that all of the dogs participate in the show with great enthusiasm.
The Obstacle Course at the SuperDogs Show
Other Pacific Coliseum Performances
The SuperDogs performance takes place in the Pacific Coliseum building. It shares the building with another show that performs at a different time. For several years, the second show was the Peking Acrobat performance. I was always impressed by the strength, flexibility, and skill of the acrobats.
In 2015, the Peking Acrobats show was replaced by Peter Pan, which starred Cathy Rigby. This was also an enjoyable event. At my ideal fair, I would be able to see both the Peking Acrobats and Peter Pan. In 2016, Peter Pan was replaced by a magic show involving multiple magicians. In 2018, the alternate event was an action sports stunt display involving skateboarders and BMX riders. In 2019, it was a show by Reveen, a magician and hypnotist.
It's advisable to arrive well in advance of the start of any Coliseum show in order to get a seat. A large crowd of people often streams towards the building as show time approaches, especially on the weekend.
The Peking Acrobats Perform at the PNE
The Pacific Spirit Horse Show
The Pacific Spirit Horse Show takes place in the Agrodome. It includes events such as the miniature horse, cattle penning, draft horse, and show jumping competitions. The events vary from year to year. Dressage, a Battle of the Breeds event, and an indoor derby are often part of the show.
In the Battle of the Breeds, a team consisting of four horses and riders competes in four events over three days. The events are dressage to music, trail obstacles, barrel racing, and stadium jumping. In the indoor derby, individual horses compete in three events—dressage, stadium jumping, and a derby, in which a cross country event is simulated within the Agrodome.
The variety of events and different types of horses participating in the Pacific Spirit Horse Show make it an interesting and often exciting event. I find the draft horse competition especially enjoyable. The teams of Clydesdales, Percherons, and Belgians are beautiful to watch.
A very popular jousting event has been held in the Agrodome during the last two years. Professional jousters riding on horseback and wearing armour compete in an unchoreographed event. The Agrodome is often full for these performances, so it's advisable to arrive with time to spare.
The RCMP Musical Ride
The RCMP Musical Ride was part of the Pacific Spirit Horse Show for several years. The show wasn't present at the 2015 or 2016 fair but appeared again in 2017. All members of the musical ride are RCMP officers who have volunteered to participate in the event for three years. The intricate patterns formed by the horses as they move and the precise timing that is shown as the patterns are produced is very impressive.
The RCMP group stays at the fair for only a few days, so there is usually a big audience for their performances. It's enjoyable to meet the horses after the show. They are beautiful and friendly animals.
Except for the SuperDogs show, the animal performances take place in the Agrodome. The Agrodome is connected to barns, which are known as Farm Country during the fair.
The barns are open to the public and have a variety of special attractions, such as lots of cute baby animals, a country store, and a country restaurant (although the restaurant has been closed for the past two years). Cows that are close to giving birth are housed in the barns so that people who are there at the right time can see a calf being born. Horses from the Pacific Spirit Horse Show and the RCMP Musical Ride can also be visited in the barns.
Farm Country contains a honey store that sometimes gives bee beard demonstrations. The business that runs the honey store provides bees for the movie industry. The owner knows how to safely attract the insects and cover a person's throat with them to create a "bee beard". The event is very interesting to watch, but I definitely wouldn't want to get a bee beard myself.
It's enjoyable to see the animals in the barns and to photograph them. However, this is the one part of the fair that makes me sad. As I learned from one of the farm hands a few years ago, many of the young animals will "enter the food chain" after the fair is over.
Animals in the BarnsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Other Events at the Fair
Some events are held year after year at the fair, such as the SuperDogs performance. Others events occur occasionally or for only a few years. It's understandable that the organizers would want to change the entertainment in successive years to maintain interest and to save money. I miss some of the former events, though.
The sand sculpture competition is one event that took place for several years in a row. The artists were very creative and skillful. Other events held at some fairs have included a motorcross competition and a nightly fireworks display. A new and interesting event in both 2015 and 2016 was a display of large, animatronic dinosaurs. In 2017 this was replaced by a display of animatronic insects, which didn't impress me as much as the dinosaurs. In 2018, a vintage car display replaced the insects. Animatronic dinosaurs were on show again in 2019.
Until recently, the fair was a traditional place for high-quality entertainment from young people, especially teenagers. The entertainment included energetic dance performances and a parade through the exhibition grounds several times a day. Most of this entertainment has disappeared, which I find sad. A parade still occurs, but it's not as elaborate as it once was. The street performances are interesting, however. They often include an excellent choreographed performance by a high school drum band. The fairground contains an outdoor stage where community groups of all ages perform and another stage where professionals perform.
More Pictures of the Fair at the PNEClick thumbnail to view full-size
Most of the foods on sale at the PNE definitely aren't health foods, but they are delicious. Burgers (including veggie ones), hot dogs, and French fries are plentiful. Pizza is available as well. The fair is associated with some special treats, such as hot and sugary mini donuts, which are very popular. Crepes, fish and chips, scones, elephant ears, and candy floss are popular as well. Indian, Chinese, Greek, and Mexican food are nice additions to the fair. In the last few years, poutine has been available. Poutine is a Canadian dish that consists of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
My favourite place to get food at the fair for several years was the gelato stand. It offered a large range of flavour choices. It was always hard to choose a flavour to buy because they were all very enticing. The gelato stand has now been been replaced with a specialty ice cream maker, which also produces a delicious product.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PNE Fair won't occur in its usual form in 2020. The organizers say that they are trying to create a highly modified event that will provide some form of social distancing but still be enjoyable for people. Playland's plans are also being modified. Links to the organizations' web pages are given at the end of this article. The traditional PNE Prize Home will be available in 2020.
The PNE Prize Home
A major attraction at the PNE is the beautiful prize home that's on display during the fair. There's always a long lineup of people waiting to get into the house to view it. People need to buy a raffle ticket in order to have a chance of owning the home. Money raised from the raffle ticket sales is used to fund 4H programs and not-for-profit community groups.
The house is a modular building, After the fair, it's professionally cleaned, dismantled, moved to a picturesque area of BC and then reassembled. A car, a boat, or groceries are usually awarded with the prize home. It's a great package for the winner.
Though people can buy raffle tickets for this year's home, I'm sure the usual line of people waiting to see the interior will be eliminated. It will be interesting to see how the PNE handles this year's fair activities.
Playland is an amusement park that is located on the same grounds as the Pacific National Exhibition fair and traditionally operates from April to September. It can therefore be enjoyed before and after the fair is held. It's advisable to look at Playland's website before a visit, however. The days and hours of operation vary.
Playland is the oldest amusement park in Canada and is best known for its wooden roller coaster, which was built in 1958. It cooperates with the fair, so visitors can walk freely between the two attractions. They still have to pay for Playland rides, though. In some years, the Hastings Racetrack also cooperates with the fair and offers free horse race events.
Playland has some gentle rides as well as some scary ones that many people love. One of the scary rides is the Atmosfear, which takes people up to a height of 218 feet and spins them around 360 degrees at a speed of up to 70 km an hour. This is one ride that I definitely avoid.
The Playland photos below were taken at a pre-season Amusement Park Science Day for high school students. The area is crowded with people and extra attractions during the fair. It's a popular place.
Photos of PlaylandClick thumbnail to view full-size
A View of Vancouver From the Atmosfear Ride
Getting to the PNE
The main entrance to the fair at the PNE is located where Renfrew Street (on the left of the park in the map below) meets Hastings Street on the south side. The main Playland entrance is on Hastings Street. Hastings Park contains parking lots during the fair. Buses travel to the fair from various parts of the city, including the downtown area.
A fair gate pass can be bought at any of the entrance gates. It's cheaper when bought and printed from the PNE's website or when purchased from specific retailers. The fair has promotion days when admission is less expensive than normal or even free if certain requirements are met. On these days, it's worth paying at the entrance booth if a fee is still required instead of buying a pass elsewhere.
Hastings Park in Vancouver
Creation of the Sanctuary in Hastings Park
Hastings Park is located beside busy roads. Many houses are located in the neighbourhoods near the roads. A few years ago, the neighbours banded together to protest the loss of their green area in Hastings Park due to the presence of the PNE and the amusement park. These facilities had been in the park for many years but had expanded over time.
Another thing that annoyed the neighbourhood was the huge parking problem each year during the fair. Parking on the PNE grounds is limited and expensive, so people tend to park on the side roads beside the houses.
The protest became so intense that for a while it looked as though the fair was going to have to find new premises. Eventually a compromise was reached. The fair site stayed where it was, but a green area known as the Sanctuary was created in Hastings Park. This is a lovely place filled with trees, a pond, walking trails, bridges, and benches. The pond was created when a stream that had travelled in a culvert for fifty years was uncovered. In addition, the side roads closest to the PNE are now no-parking zones (except for the home owners).
The Sanctuary, the Momiji Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden
Three smaller but lovely parks are located in Hastings Park right beside the fairground. The Sanctuary is a pleasant and peaceful place for PNE visitors. Many people stroll through the park during their time at the fair. It's surprising how much the trees deaden the screams and other sounds from Playland. It's nice to rest in the Sanctuary and watch for birds before returning to the activity in the fair or the amusement park.
The Momiji Japanese Garden is a small but significant garden near the Sanctuary. Its significance is due to two factors. It commemorates the very sad internment of Japanese Canadians in Hastings Park during the second world war. In addition, the establishment of the garden was also one of the first events in the "greening" of the park. The word "Momiji" means "maple".
Another pleasant place for fair visitors to rest is an area known as the Italian Garden (or the Italian Gardens). The area is sometimes referred to in the plural due to the different sections of the garden. It's a beautiful area with flowers, fountains, walkways, and sculptures representing characters from Italian operas. It's located next to a small hill that serves as a viewing platform for outdoor stage performances during the fair. A playground for children is located on one side of the garden and areas for sports on the other.
The Sanctuary and the two gardens mentioned above are part of the PNE grounds. Fair visitors can enter them without extra cost. The areas are free to enter during the rest of the year when the barriers around the fairground are removed.
Photos of the Sanctuary and the GardensClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Greening of Hastings Park
A plan to transform more sections of Hastings Park into green areas has been created and progress has already been made. Greenways (attractive paths bordered by plants) have been created for pedestrians and cyclists in the park. Visitors to the PNE can explore these trails if they get their hand stamped before they leave the exhibition grounds. The stamp will allow them to return to the fair for free later on in the day.
A stream that was hidden for sixty years has been uncovered to create Creekway Park. This park and its greenway connects Hastings Park with New Brighton Park, which borders Burrard Inlet. The inlet is located near the north end of Hastings Park. It's the blue area in the map above. The creek greenway allows pedestrians and cyclists to reach the inlet safely.
The increased greening of Hastings Park and the area to the north should make many local residents very happy. The plan will hopefully allow the PNE, Playland, and nature to exist peacefully beside each other for many years to come.
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Linda Crampton