COVID-19 could mean the end of the ride for Vancouver’s PNE

With $8 million in debt, this local venue needs all the support it can get

The PNE has survived world wars and the Great Depression. Can it make it through the pandemic? Photo courtesy of Vancity Credit Union

By: Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor

For many Vancouverites, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is synonymous with summer. However, due to the pandemic, the annual fair has been cancelled for the second year in a row. And there’s more than mini doughnuts at stake. 

Currently, the PNE is $8 million in debt, and their projections indicate that the number could increase to $15 million by the end of 2021. Because of its unique governance structure (it operates as a non-profit, but is owned by the City of Vancouver), the PNE has been excluded from any of the existing COVID-19 emergency benefits. 

“[COVID-19] is unprecedented and the PNE needs our help now [ . . . ] To be frank, we risk losing it,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in an April 30 news conference. “Now we’re asking for the province to step up.”

The PNE permanently closing would be devastating to our city’s arts and culture scene. As a multi-use venue for concerts, festivals, sporting events, and more, this Vancouver landmark holds significance to many people. For me, the PNE represents a place of personal growth. Its Agrodome is where I spent 12 years training as a competitive figure skater and ice dancer. And the proximity to the Hastings Park Farmer’s Market and trade shows like Make It ignited my passion for supporting local businesses. 

While my memories of the PNE are fond ones, I recognize that its 111 year history is not all pleasant. In 1942, the area was transformed into a Japanese internment camp. As detailed by the historical website Hastings Park 1942, the Canadian government detained thousands of Japanese Canadians in PNE facilities, including the livestock buildings. Families were separated, personal possessions were stolen, and many infectious diseases within the camps were left untreated. None of these gross human rights violations were recognized until decades after World War II. 

With Bloomberg recently naming Vancouver the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, standing in solidarity with racialized communities is all the more imperative. Today, Hastings Park is transparent about its dark past. Aside from the information on its website, there are plaques around the PNE that explain the conditions of the internment camps, and they include firsthand accounts from the camp’s survivors. If the PNE were to close, we stand to lose this avenue of educating the public on anti-Asian racism.

Another loss would be to our local job market, especially for young adults, seeing as the PNE is BC’s largest employer of youth. In a Global News article, CUPE 1004 labour union president Andrew Ledger said “thousands [ . . . ] depend on the fair to pay for post-secondary education or support their families.”

Recently, the provincial government unveiled a $100 million emergency fund to support “anchor attractions” in BC’s tourism industry. Hopefully, the PNE receives some of this financial aid. Otherwise, Vancouver really will become No Fun City.