Art & Artists in Exhibition: Vancouver 1890 - 1950
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Pacific National Exhibition

Also Hastings Exhibition, Vancouver Exhibition

August 15, 1910 - current


The Pacific National Exhibition has a history of almost one hundred years, going back to the years of work creating it before it opened in the summer of 1910. The first serious proposal to start a Vancouver exhibition was made in 1890, and over the next seventeen years the ideas simmered along, finally culminating in the formation of the Vancouver Exhibition Association in 1907. This group made the decision to build the fair grounds at what was then known as Hastings Park (originally East Park), in the Township of Hastings. At that time the City of Vancouver was bounded east of Renfrew by the Hastings Townsite, and south of Broadway by South Vancouver and Point Grey.

The site chosen for the exhibition had first been created as a country race track in 1888, when it was reached from Vancouver by steamer from the foot of Carroll Street, or by walking from the street car line that stopped at Victoria Drive. The grounds were secured in 1908 over the opposition of the local horse racing community who used the rough racetrack carved out of the forest, and construction commenced. It was an immediate success when it opened on August 15, 1910, and had an attendance of 68,000 people the first year. Access to the exhibition slowly improved with the extension of streetcar lines and roads.

The fair was formally known as the Vancouver Exhibition (as separate from the New Westminster exhibition), but was often referred to as the Hastings Exhibition because of its location. It was advertised as the Greater Vancouver Exhibition, and as the Canada Pacific Exhibition. In 1946 the name was formally changed to the Pacific National Exhibition, and Hastings Park was renamed Exhibition Park at that time.

The original Constitution of the exhibition included as one of its objects "The encouragement of the cultivation of the beautiful in nature and art." From its beginning the Exhibition included displays of art and handicrafts, thus becoming one of the first places in the Lower Mainland that artists could display their work in public. Conditions for displaying artwork were quite primitive at the beginning, though, and the visitor would encounter quite a mix of displays, as noted in a review of the first exhibition in the Vancouver Daily News-Advertiser, on August 16 1910:
      "Leaving the main floor, and going by way of the northeast set of stairs to the gallery, the visitor, on alighting on the upper portion of the building is struck by the magnificent display of the Local Council of Women. Fancy work of all kinds, tapestries, embroideries, doilies, sofa cushions, baby goods and such, tastefully arranged in show cases and along counters, tend to make the display of the women one of the best in the Exhibition. Proceeding around the gallery the visitor sees the art exhibit with its fine assortment of paintings, oil and watercolors by local artists. At the end of the building a showcase filled with mounted birds is shown by a local taxidermist, while more pictures and a display of ores finish up the sights in this end."

Ten years later the struggle for good gallery conditions continued, as noted in the June 5, 1920 column "Art At The Vancouver Exhibition" in the Western Woman's Weekly:
      "It is hoped that by this union of Art Societies with the Exhibition Association, the Fine Art Building at Hastings Park will this year offer an exhibition of pictures which shall be worthy of the city.
      Local artists who have hitherto refrained from exhibiting at Hastings Park owing to the faulty building and the indiscriminate hanging of works need refrain no longer. The Advisory Board of Fine Arts and the Exhibition Association are determined to put on an exhibition which shall be of aesthetic value."

The amusement arcade at the Exhibition was known as Skid Road, and contained a wide array of interesting and unusual displays, games, and divertissements. Sacred crocodiles and petrified women competed with Dutch comedians and a number of dancing-girl shows. African dodgers, the educated horse, cigar stands, nigger babies, a palmist, candy booths, a maze mystery, and merry-go-rounds helped keep the visitors amused and quickly parted from their money.

Fears that the opening of the exhibition would spell the end of the existing exhibition in New Westminster proved unfounded, and a strengthened fair circuit resulted, including Victoria on the island, with increased entries and exhibits. The New Westminster exhibition eventually merged into the Vancouver Exhibition around 1930 after the New Westminster fair grounds and buildings burned down.


Catalogue cover from the 1931 PNE show.

In a 1934 conversation with Major Matthews of the City Archives, the former Manager - Secretary of the Vancouver Exhibition from 1911 - 1924, Mr. Henry Sharpe Rolston, noted some of the fair's accomplishments over the years:
      " ... We had the best attractions money could buy such as high diving horses, etc. etc. We inaugurated the first egg-laying contest in America, and these are now held in every province in Canada, and states in the United States. We operated the first radio in Canada; the first automobile races in Canada; the first aquarium; the first better babies' contest. And we brought the best fine arts from Ottawa."


Catalogue from the 1931 PNE show.


Catalogue from the 1931 PNE show.

The fine arts referred to by Rolston included the first west coast showing of the Group of Seven in August 1922 in the Fine Art Section of the Exhibition. The Group of Seven showed more of their work at the Exhibition in 1928 - 29 and 1931.

The fair grounds were pressed into use during both world wars. In World War I, troops were marshalled on the parade grounds before shipping off overseas. In World War II, the Japanese living on the West Coast were held there pending relocation to internment camps.


Exhibitions

Editor's note: the following list is not complete.

DATE TITLE
August 9 - 16 1924 Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Water Colors and Etchings
August 1925 Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Water Colors and Etchings
August 1926 Fine Arts Exhibits
August 10 - 20 1927 Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Water Colors and Etchings, including a Collection of Water Colours by Charles John Collings.
August 6 - 16 1930 Exhibitions of Oil Paintings and Water-Colours Loaned by Citizens, and Paintings Loaned by Members of The B.C. Society of Fine Arts, The Palette and Chisel Club, The Vancouver Sketch Club, The Island Arts and Crafts, Victoria.
August 22- 29 1931 Exhibition of Paintings and Photography, including Contemporary British Water-Colors; Sketches of the Canadian North by Lawren Harris, R.C.A. and A.Y. Jackson, R.C.A.; Photograms of the Year.
Aug. 29 - Sept. 5 1932 Exhibition of Painting and Photography, including Contemporary British Paintings; Photograms of the Year; The Vancouver Sketch Club exhibit.

References

Early History of the Vancouver Exhibition Association
      "As told in 1933 by Alderman J.J. Miller, J.P., First President, 1908"
      1953, Vancouver City Archives occasional paper, 48 pages, illustrated
      Includes "Conversation With Henry Sharpe Rolston, Manager-Secretary, 1911-24"
      Historical notes; Association members & executive lists
      Poem "Green And Gold" by Felix Penne

The Pacific National Exhibition - An Illustrated History
      David Breen and Kenneth Coates
      1982, U.B.C. Press, ISBN 0-7748-0167-0, 122 pages, illustrated

Vancouver's Fair - An Administrative & Political History of the The Pacific National Exhibition
      David Breen and Kenneth Coates
      1982, U.B.C. Press, ISBN 0-7748-0161-1, 192 pages, illustrated
      Includes index; notes; statistics; bibliography

THE GROUP OF SEVEN - ART FOR A NATION
      1995, Charles C. Hill, National Gallery of Canada, ISBN 0-7710-6716-x
      Includes exhibition list, with G7 shows in Western Canada

Clippings

(Review of the first fair)
      Vancouver Daily News-Advertiser, August 16 1910

"Art Gallery At Exhibition Great Attraction This Year" by J.L.
      Western Woman's Weekly, July 29 1922

"THE VANCOUVER EXHIBITION:
      Two loan collections were made to the annual Fair, one in the Art Section, and the other to the Native Sons of B.C., who made an attractive display of native Indian art, in a model of a typical Hudson's Bay Co.'s fort, that at Fort St. James, about 1850, being selected, and which proved to be a great success."
      From "Curator's Report, by T.P.O. Menzies
      Museum Notes, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1926.

"So far no Art Gallery had come into being in the Province and exhibitions of Art from the outside were restricted to occasional showings brought from the East by the Exhibition Association, to Hastings Park, where they took their place uncomfortably with the livestock, the manufactures, the products of the field and garden, and the skidroad."
      From "A Short Art History of British Columbia", by Charles H. Scott
      Behind The Palette, June 1947


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