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PNE on COVID-19 curtailing 2020 Fair: 'We’ve been down before, but we’ve never been out'

Among the events on the chopping block for the summer of 2020 is the 110-year-old Fair at the PNE
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2019-revel-district-pne-fair
The Revel District was a popular area during the 2019 Fair at the PNE. Photo: PNE/Playland

The more important B.C. summer forecast is the one coming from provincial health leaders and not the weather experts this year. COVID-19's impact on the region is hard to calculate precisely, but all signs are pointing to there being no large-scale public events across the region for the next several months.

Among the events on the chopping block for the summer of 2020 is the 110-year-old Fair at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE).

On Saturday, during the daily media briefing, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry faced questions about what the next few months will look like in Vancouver and B.C. when it comes to large gatherings. 

Asked whether the public can realistically expect to see the return of larger events, for example, the PNE or Pride, this summer, Henry said no. "That is a much riskier prospect than ever before. We do not enough have enough herd immunity or community immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen." 

Losing a summer of revenue is a massive blow to the PNE, which is a big draw for locals and visitors, as well as one of the province's most significant sources of employment for youth. 

Launched in 1910, the PNE has since become the largest annual ticketed event in B.C., attracting more than 900,000 visitors during its annual just-over two-weeks span. A showcase for multiple sectors of B.C. industry, a concert destination, and a wacky food paradise, the fair is a venerable tradition for families and individuals that is woven into many locals' personal histories.

In additon to the PNE, there's the Playland amusement park, which had initially in late March postponed their 2020 start to June, then extended it to July. It remains to be determined if Playland can official open at all this year.

The PNE appears to be taking the news in stride, and remains optimistic that the loss of revenue for 2020 is not a death knell for the operation. In fact, the PNE seems hopeful that, given the opportunity, they can find some ways to welcome people in a modified fashion for some form of entertainment. 

"These are challenging times but we are resilient," says the PNE in an open letter issued April 18 - the same day Dr. Henry indicated large events won't likely go on as planned.

Pointing to their survival of two world wars, and other crises, the PNE is asserting confidence they will be back some day, some how. 

"We will be the place where British Columbia will come together again – to laugh, clap, cheer, sing, ride and scream through the lazy days of summer. As British Columbia’s largest employer of youth and the largest ticketed event in this great province, we thank you for 110 years of your support British Columbia."

When it comes to this summer, however, things will definitely be scaled down - though what that looks like for the PNE and their guests remains to be seen.

"[T]he events may be smaller, and protocols may be different, but we have a few bright ideas up our sleeve for when the time is right."

Here is their open letter in full:

April 18, 2020

Open letter to the people of British Columbia:

For 110 years the PNE Fair has been a coveted summer gathering that transcends age, race, gender, religion and economic circumstance to bring our province together to celebrate and build collective memories. For British Columbians, it is a summer tradition that has always signified the fun-loving spirit of our province.

COVID-19 has impacted everything around us, in BC and throughout the world, and we are grateful for the leadership we are seeing from our health authorities and officials. Because of COVID-19, this summer will look different at the PNE. The opportunities to celebrate will be different and we absolutely recognize that our plans for the PNE Fair and Playland will need to adjust accordingly. We continue to monitor progress and work with Government officials and, when the time is right, we will be ready to welcome the province back in ways that makes sense for all our health and safety.

These are challenging times but we are resilient. Yes, the summer months are vital for us financially, and hearing confirmation today that all large summer gatherings are unlikely to happen, will of course, make the coming year very difficult. We are deeply concerned about the thousands of our youth, staff, vendors and partners that depend on us each summer to pay their way through school and to support their families and businesses each year. But the PNE succeeded through impacts of two wars, a great depression and the economic recession in early 2000’s. We were the site where British Columbia came together to wrap our arms around each other in celebration following both world wars. The PNE celebrates community resiliency, innovation, creativity and fun, even during extremely challenging times. We are the home of generations of great memories – we’ve been down before, but we’ve never been out.

We will be the place where British Columbia will come together again – to laugh, clap, cheer, sing, ride and scream through the lazy days of summer. As British Columbia’s largest employer of youth and the largest ticketed event in this great province, we thank you for 110 years of your support British Columbia.

So stay tuned, the events may be smaller, and protocols may be different, but we have a few bright ideas up our sleeve for when the time is right.

With love,
The team at the Pacific National Exhibition

-With files from Megan Lalonde 





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