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5 things you (probably) didn't know about Vancouver's PNE

Having been around for so long, a lot has happened at those fairgrounds
Clockwise from left: A young girl poses with a gorilla model in the 1960s at the PNE, the Vancouver Exhibition opening in 1910, Michael Buble, Ernie Dougherty and an ice cream cone.

The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is a Vancouver classic.

The first fair took place in 1910 under the Vancouver Exhibition name; the PNE didn't get its current name until 1946. Since then it's run nearly every single year. During WWII there was a pause from 1942 to 1946 (the military took over the grounds), and then again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than that, even during WWI, the fair has happened.

Having been around for so long, a lot has happened at those fairgrounds, from the miracle mile, to the Beatles only performance in Vancouver, to the Queen of England stopping by.

Here are five facts about the local legend that is the fair.

1. Ernie Dougherty worked at the PNE for nearly 70 years, even as a Canuck

If you don't recognize Ernie Dougherty's name from the NHL's Vancouver Canucks rosters, that makes sense. He didn't play for them, but for the original Vancouver Canucks of the Pacific Coast Hockey League and Western Hockey League (a now-defunct league that happens to have the same name as the current WHL).

In fact, he was on the first team.

But he's maybe just as famous in Vancouver for his work at the PNE, where he served ice cream 1936 to 2004.

2. For 50 cents you could get your baby checked out and win prizes

In WW1 the health of young children was a concern across North America, and a variety of programs were created to improve childrens' health.

One of those was the 'Better Babies Contest' which, starting in 1913, saw mothers bring their young children to the PNE and have them checked out by a medical team. The team of doctors and nurses would then rate the babies and either give medical advice or a prize.

"This contest is credited with improving medical facilities for children in BC and the addition of 20 beds specifically for young people at Vancouver General Hospital," states the PNE.

3. The grounds were used as an internment camp

In what's since been recognized as a racist, historical wrong, Japanese Canadians were forced into internment camps during WW2.

Many individuals and families had their belongings and property confiscated and were deported away from the coast.

As part of this, the PNE fairgrounds were used to hold many of the local residents who were being moved. Some of the buildings used as part of this still stand, including the Livestock Building.

4. Michael Buble won a talent contest there

Michael Buble might be a massively popular singer with fans around the world now, but there was a time he was just a young guy with a dream.

In the mid-90s he entered the youth talent competition at the PNE and ended up taking the grand prize.

The woman who organized the event actually ended up taking him on as his manager based on his performance and helped get him a deal with Warner Bros. Records. 

Since then Buble has gone on to write the forward to a book about the PNE.

5. Rotary phones debuted in B.C. at the fair

Depending on your age the words "rotary phone" might conjure up childhood memories of chatting with friends or a trip to the museum.

However, the PNE fair was a the place to be to see the newest technology back in the day, and one year an exhibit included the rotary phone, as technology coming soon to homes in Vancouver and the rest of B.C. It turned out the first place to get the fancy new phones was Powell River, though.

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