The PNE at One Hundred

Posted by Daniel on May 26, 2010 - 3 comments

Chuck Davis writes:

The PNE is one hundred years old this year. The Pacific National Exhibition started (as the Vancouver Exhibition) August 15, 1910. It might have opened earlier if it hadn’t been for the Royal Agricultural Show in New Westminster. That annual fair had been running for years, and New West tried to stall the creation of a competing fair in Vancouver. It didn’t work. Pressure from Vancouverites made the PNE inevitable.

The official opening was August 16, a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier who is shown in the above photograph (Vancouver City Archives #Port P878) in the back of an American Napier just behind the white-coated driver. Laurier is arriving in the city to open the Exhibition. Seated on the left in the black top hat is Vancouver banker Ewing Buchan and behind him, Mayor Louis D. Taylor.

The Vancouver Daily News-Advertiser wrote, “Petrified women, sacrificial crocodiles from the sacred river Ganges, and dusky negroes who dodge swiftly thrown baseballs, to say nothing of the numerous Salome dancers, Spanish Carmens, Dutch comedians and chorus girls are some of the attractions being offered the visitors at the fair this week.”

The opening day crowd at the Exhibition was about 5,000. (Admission was 50 cents.) The organizers hadn’t been expecting anything like that number. Manager Henry Rolston later recalled what that first day was like: “The arrangements for the first fair were very inadequate, particularly the handling of the crowds . . . Many of the directors tried to handle the crowds at the gates. The fence was knocked down; we collected cash and let the people in, put the cash in our pockets and emptied our pockets at the office. Everything was in a turmoil . . .”

The 50-cent admission was hefty at a time when the average weekly wage for a Canadian production worker was about $9.50. But you got to see a lot of neat stuff. Like the Stove Hall, featuring “a good collection of stoves and ranges, together with various novelties and appliances which will appeal to the housewife.” The Machinery Hall was an attraction, so were the Industrial Hall, the Poultry House, King Dog (where dogs of all kinds were on display) along with "Numerous barns and stables,” food booths and Skid Road.

That last isn't described, but a reporter there wrote this: “Upon the Skid Road it is noticeable that the objectionable features frequently to be met with at similar fairs are entirely absent, and there appears to be nothing to which the most fastidious taste could take exception.”