The Livestock Building at Hastings Park is a rundown old concrete warehouse full of peeling paint, boarded up and broken windows. The back is just as neglected, but painted red from a film shoot some years ago. Most of us know it from taking our kids to see the petting zoo, the pig races and Big Bob at the annual Pacific National Exhibition. And, while it’s in desperate need of a facelift, the building has got both architectural merit and a really interesting social history.
The first part of the building went up in 1929, and then in the ‘40s architectural firm McCarter Nairne turned it into a much larger Streamline Moderne building—the same firm that designed the amazing art deco Marine Building on Burrard. Most important though is the building serves as a reminder of the injustice suffered by 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during WW2. From March to September, 1942 you would have found more than 3,100 women and children at different times living in deplorable conditions in the animal stalls at the western end of this three-acre large building. The eastern section housed a hospital, kitchen and dining area. The men–mostly fishers and miners and merchants and foresters were housed in the Pure Food Building. All declared “enemy aliens,” wrenched from their homes and sent to live here before being forcibly relocated to internment camps in places like Slocan, BC. Wander through the Momiji Gardens and you’ll find a faded plaque secured to a rock telling some of the story.
Muriel Fujiwara Kitagawa described the Japanese women’s dormitory: “The whole place is impregnated with the smell of ancient manure and maggots. Every other day it is swept with dichlorine of lime, or something, but you can’t disguise horse smell, cow smell, sheep, pigs, rabbits and goats…there are 10 showers for 1,500 women.”
Back in 1997 when it looked like the PNE and Playland would move somewhere else, the Garden Auditorium (1940), the PNE Forum (1933), the iconic wooden rollercoaster (early 1930s) and the Livestock Building were all under threat of demolition. A decision to keep the PNE where it is gave these structures a reprieve.
According to Dave Hutch, project manager, the City of Vancouver is currently assessing the Livestock Building before recommending that it be added to the Vancouver Heritage Register. Hutch, says based on the research so far, the building will likely qualify for an A Status, which at the very least should help the former marshalling facility get the maintenance it badly needs to prolong its life.
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