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Vancouver's PNE determined to persist amid pandemic

Last Updated Aug 31, 2020 at 7:23 pm PDT

The PNE and Playland are seen here from the NEWS 1130 Air Patrol in the summer of 2019. (Source: Riley Phillips/NEWS 1130)

The end-of-summer fair drew a fraction of the usual crowd, revenue but staged a successful drive-thru version

Organizers say the decision to find a way to keep the 110-year-old tradition alive was the right one

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A shortened, scaled-down, and socially-distanced PNE came to a close Sunday, with organizers saying the move to forge ahead amid the pandemic was the right one.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and large gatherings were banned, the fate of the 110-year-old fair was uncertain.

But spokesperson Laura Ballance says a small tenacious team committed to finding a way for some version of the show to go on.

“We have survived the Spanish Flu, we survived the Great Depression, we were the place where British Columbia came together after World War I and World War II to celebrate again. We just felt that COVID was not going to stop us from holding our place in the hearts of British Columbians,” she says.

“I think the point for us is that we fought on, we put together a plan.”


The 15-day farewell to summer usually draws between 700-850,000 visitors, employing more than 9,000 people and generating $80-million for the local economy.

This year’s 8-day fair was sold-out, but the maximum capacity was around 30,000, and revenue plummeted to $650,000.

“That has given us a lot of motivation to continue. We were the only fair in the country to mount this large drive-thru event,” Ballance says.

“We showed how much we felt it was important during this difficult time that we pause and remember this end of summer tradition that has brought so much joy over the last 110 years to British Columbia.”

Ballance says people who visited adorned their cars with signs showing their love for and support of the PNE.

Nevertheless, the pandemic-related need for physical distancing has created an unprecedented logistical and economic challenge for large events.

“The entire event industry not only here in Vancouver and Canada but around the world is trying to reimagine what might be possible,” Ballance says.

Next on the agenda for the team at the PNE is trying to figure out a way to adapt fall’s Fright Nights events to comply with public health orders.