The PNE: Party Like it’s 1957

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The last time I went to the Pacific National Exhibition was about a decade ago when my kids were still small. I’m guessing it hasn’t changed all that much. But I bet 60 years ago it was a whole different story.

The PNE
The PNE prize home in 1957. Courtesy Vancouver Archives 180-3947

Take the prize home for instance. This year’s house is valued at $1.6 million. It’s 3,100 square feet, and comes with something called an “entertainment lounge,” a separate six-seat home theatre, as well as a built-in Expresso machine in the master bedroom. Seriously, you’ll never have to leave the house.

In 1957, things were a lot less complicated. People went out to movies and drank Nescafe in the kitchen. The prize home, at 1,444 square feet, was one and a half times the size of a normal house. It was a single-storey, boxy, early Ranch style house.

It was also less than half the size of the 2017 prize home.

PNE 2017 prize home

The 1957 house was taken to, and remains at 6517 Lougheed Highway in Burnaby. It originally sat on a concrete pad, but owners have since added a basement, bringing the total square footage to a little over 2,400. It’s assessed at $1.2 million.

PNE prize home 1957

There were good and bad things about the PNE in 1957.

The PNE in 1957
The PNE in 1957. Note the prize home on the left. Photo courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/45379817@N08/6122691246

First the good. We had Elvis Presley. It’s true. He only ever performed three shows outside of the U.S.—Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In August 1957, more than 26,000 fans paid $3.75 each, to see him at Empire Stadium.

PNE in 1957

 

Livestock ruled.

PNE 1957
Miss PNE 1957, Burnaby’s Carol Lucas presents first prize to poulty farmer

On the downside, 1957 had beauty queens. In fact, there are 43 Miss PNEs. The last one hung up her crown in 1991.

PNE 1957
Courtesy Vancouver Archives 180-3218

The first PNE home was raffled off in 1934. It was worth $5,000 and is still at 2812 Dundas Street. Today it’s valued at $1.6 million. The next house was raffled in 1952, and except for the years 1967 and 1968 when the PNE experimented with $50,000 gold bars, there has been a house raffled off every year. They exist in all areas of Metro Vancouver, and the 2017 prize home will finish up in the Okanagan’s Naramata.

PNE prize home 2017

With thanks to Helen Lee for her research, and to Elizabeth MacKenzie for access to her 2005 Master’s thesis, and the 1957 PNE prize home floor plan.

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

 

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12 comments

  1. How timely. My wife and I went to the PNE yesterday. Had not been for about 7 years. Ever since they tore down the BC Pavilion and the Modern Living building and the food building the fair has lost its flair. Do they still give every student a free ticket to the PNE at year end?
    As for this years house , my wife gave it a nod of approval. The PNE should set record attendance records for this year as the weather has been spectacular.

  2. We never missed the parades when I was a kid . Do people still allow parking n their front lawns?. How long ago were the side shows abolished ? I recall there was usually at least one police raid on the “dancing girls ” show .

  3. When we still had the PNE Parade, the Transit Museum Society entered vintage buses in the parade. This was always a big hit with the crowds, and some years we had four or five buses in it. Special arrangements were made at Granville and Hastings so that we could have an old Brill trolleybus join the parade. With the parade underway from Georgia Street, where there were no trolley wires, we had the trolleybus parked on Granville Street just south of Hastings Street. As the Society buses approached, police and parade marshals would move spectators out of the way to allow the trolley to join in the parade. We all travelled together to the end of the parade at Hastings and Clark Drive. As a volunteer driver, I had the honour of doing this a few times. The Society continues to have our buses entered in various parades in the region.

  4. I enjoyed this article! My Mom was expecting her first child this year, so I don’t know if she went to the PNE or not. He was born prematurely and died a few days old in Dec of that year, so 1957 is a sad time for my parents. I loved the photo of the 1957 PNE home; it’s definitely more my style. I went through the home this year, and it’s way too fancy for me! I don’t know what I’d do with a 6 seat entertainment center. And I hate espresso. LOL I even like the lovely beauty queens. Everything was so posh and elegant back then. And the PNE was very interesting when I was small. We did get a free ticket with our report cards in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t think anyone gets one now but I’m not sure. Maybe kids are free admission? There were many low priced days this year. My hubby and I went on the $1.50 Saturday for the 150th birthday of Canada; if you wore red, you paid that price. I thought that was neat. There were hardly any flower displays like in former years, so it was rather bland on the grounds this year. But the RCMP musical ride was fantastic. And the 4H club is always fun to see.

  5. And party we did, though in my case it was 1967.

    Certainly lots of memories there for me as a teenager. Besides the attractions of Playland, which I actually neglected at the time, there were the other entertainment venues — the Pacific Coliseum, Gardens Auditorium, Agrodome — hosting acts during the PNE and year-round.

    There, I saw entertainers like Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Vanilla Fudge, Fleetwood Mac (the original, with Peter Green), Creedence Clearwater Revival, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, Mothers of Invention, Collectors, and many, many more.

    Of course, many of these experiences were psychedelically-enhanced. I recall some hilarious post-concert gatherings at the bus stop on E. Hastings.

    In my twenties, I played the Gardens with my father, who often entertained at the PNE, and siblings as a comedy clown act for the children’s Telethon, back when entertainment was sourced locally. That was probably the largest venue I ever played.

    As I said, I wasn’t a big fan of the PNE’s amusements, but I appreciated the visual beauty and architectural ingenuity of the wooden roller coaster. It wasn’t until I was 34 and an established commercial photographer that I gained permission from the PNE and its lawyers to climb the structure and make my most popular photograph to date.

    Thanks for the PNE memories.

  6. Every year it hasn’t been the price you pay. Costs a fortune to get in the gate, parking, two house tickets for $25.00, just a bunch of junk food, the buildings selling things were useless, and you can’t get into see the concerts for free you have to pay or get there 6 hours early. It’s overrated now and won’t waste our money supporting the fair anymore.

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