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Looking back at the history of a cherished Vancouver summer tradition

Entrance of Playland at the PNE

Nothing says August in Vancouver like a trip to the annual Pacific National Exhibition.

Known locally as the PNE, or The Fair, the annual two-week event has been a part of summer in Vancouver for more than 100 years – in fact, the 2021 edition marks its 111th year.

In 1910, then Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier, made the trek to Vancouver to open the first Pacific National Exhibit. At the time, it was known as The Industrial Exhibition and it was seen as a way to showcase British Columbia to the rest of Canada and the world. It was also the second-largest event of its kind in North America, behind the New York State Fair.

Since that first Fair 111 years ago, the annual event has become a staple of summer in Vancouver and the largest annual ticketed event in the province, drawing more than 900,000 visitors during its 15-day run every year.

In its early years, many technological firsts made their debut at the PNE, including the first rotary phone in the Pacific Northwest, and aircraft and rocketry displays. Since the beginning, showcasing BC’s vibrant agriculture industry has been at the heart of the PNE. Every year, the site’s historic livestock barns are transformed into a farm within the city – allowing guests to meet an array of farm animals, experience interactive educational exhibits and connect with agriculture producers from different sectors.

Over the past 100-plus years, the PNE has evolved to become a centre for entertainment and family fun with daily shows and concerts for all ages, and fan favourites including the Superdogs Show, the West Coast Lumberjack Show and Electric Fire – the nightly musical pyro grand finale.

And, of course, there are the rides. One of the PNE’s most popular draws is the Playland Amusement Park, which is open from April until October.

Playland has hosted millions of visitors since it opened in 1910. While the amusement park boasts a plethora of rides for thrill-seekers of all ages, its main attraction for more than 60 years has been the iconic Wooden Roller Coaster. Affectionately known as “The Coaster,” the ride opened in 1958. It is a true throwback and Canada’s oldest working roller coaster. The entirely wooden frame gives it an almost rickety feel – but don’t worry, it’s routinely inspected daily. Add in the fact that the 90-second ride can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometres an hour, this ride is not for the faint of heart.

While the annual fair looked a little different last year, the PNE has managed to successfully navigate and survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 edition was a drive-thru event, and while this year’s fair marks a return to in-person activities, there will be reduced capacity and tickets must be purchased ahead of time.

This year’s PNE runs from Aug. 21 to Sept. 6 (closed Aug. 23 and 30). For more information, visit pne.ca.

 

Published on Aug. 13, 2021.