No one can say that Vancouver's PNE Fair isn't resilient in the face of adversity.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the annual end-of-summer bash featured drive-through exhibits with reserved tickets and outdoor favourites like the SuperDogs performing in front of audiences in vehicles.
This year, the 111th version of the traditional celebration of fun, food, and farm animals, called FUNdamentals, will see attendees ditching their cars and once again strolling through (mostly outdoor) attractions—albeit with reduced capacity and with masks and social distancing recommended.
At a media briefing today (August 19), PNE president and CEO Shelley Frost outlined this year's featured events and promised that despite the COVID-19 pandemic's restrictions—"Our fair's footprint is much smaller, almost entirely outside"—people's memories of gathering together for fun at the PNE will be realized once more.
"We want to show you our reilience...", Frost said. "Two days from now, we will be that place."
The 2021 fest opens Saturday (August 21) and runs until September 6, and admission tickets must be purchased in advance (call 604-252-3700 or go to ticketleader.ca).
Playland ride passes, for children and adults, can be purchased at the same time as reserved fair admissions, which will be date- and time-specific.
The fairgrounds will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; it will be closed on Mondays (except for Labour Day).
The PNE says above its safety guidelines on its website that "the 2021 PNE Fair will operate with reduced capacity, under all applicable Provincial Health Office orders with the health and safety of our guests as our primary focus".
Some of the venerable fair's most popular lures—such as the aforementioned SuperDogs and the West Coast Lumberjack Show—will be featured at outdoor stages and plazas.
As well, the historic livestock barns will once again connect city folk with the province's varied agriculture sectors, as they have done for the entire 111 years of the fair's existence. Children's exhibits and educational displays are the order of the day here, as well as live animals, including babies.
Food vendors are another big draw for fair visitors every year, and this year's offerings include treasured faves like the mini doughnuts, Jimmy's Lunch, foot-long hot dogs, and Hunky Bill's perogies, not to mention about 30 other purveyors of pizza, tacos, barbecued meats, and all things deep-fried.
Fair-food aficionados should be aware that not all vendors will be accepting cash, with a view to conducting fewer personal transactions, and credit and debit cards are preferred payment methods. PNE gift cards, which can be used in place of cash, will also be available for purchase at two guest-services locations.
PNE boss Frost said at the briefing that the SuperDogs show, this year called Happy Together, will thrill fans at the PNE Amphitheatre three times each day. Likewise, Frost noted, the West Coast Lumberjack Show, near the Agrodome plaza, will satisfy armchair loggers thrice daily with its chainsaw, log-rolling, and axe-throwing demonstrations.
Frost also pointed out that a relatively recent show that has become a crowd favourite, For the Love of Drag, is returning with its roster of Vancouver drag superstars performing pop-music classics twice a day, in the afternoon and evening, at the Coca-Cola Stage in the entertainment zone.
As well, Frost said, nine rotating daytime and evening musical shows—ranging from Neil Diamond and ABBA tributes to the Paperboys to Motown, soul, and beach-party acts—at the same location will be free with admission. (Go here for complete time and date information.)
Family and kids entertainment gets its own venue at the centrally located ToonCity stage, where a three-times-daily pirate musical—called 'Tis Fun to Be a Pirate and starring a troupe of well-rehearsed youngsters performing with pirate mascots Bones and Scully—shares the house with the interactive Blue's Dance Party, which is scheduled twice per day.
At 7:30 p.m. every evening, ToonCity's stage becomes a giant movie screen where classic cinematic family fare—like Frozen 2, Beauty and the Beast, and the latest Hollywood remakes of Aladdin and Lion King—literally takes centre stage. (Go here for movie schedules.)
The popular Marketplace stalls (50 of them this year) have been moved to the LIvestock Building and will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for fairgoers' browsing and shopping pleasure daily.
Another tradition, the PNE Prize Home, has already been built on-site in South Surrey, close to White Rock's beaches, but hopeful ticket buyers can view a display suite and check out details about the grand-prize structure. (Associated draw prizes this year include a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, five Chevrolet vehicles, a Yaletown furniture shopping spree, and cash awards).
Electric Fire, the fair's nightly "Pyro Musical Finale", will kick off at 9:45 p.m., and a peripatetic brass band and strolling comedy performers will entertain around the grounds during the daytime.
Metro Vancouver is a major part of the fair this year with an outdoor showcase in the PNE Amphitheatre called Together We Make Our Region Strong.
At the media briefing, Vancouver city councillor Lisa Dominato, who is also chair of the PNE board of directors, introduced the new participant. "We're thrilled to be partnering with Metro Vancouver this year to showcase the incredible work being done in the region," she said during opening remarks.
Sav Dhaliwal, Metro Vancouver's board chair, praised the PNE, which he said he first visited about a half-century ago.
"The PNE Fair is part of our cultural fabric," Dhaliwal, a Burnaby city councillor, said. "People come back with the memories they have gathered all those years." He added that Metro Vancouver's 21 member municipalities will be sending their mayors and councillors to the showcase "throughout the fair" for "scheduled conversations".
"The fact that we are here, at the PNE Fair, is proof of our resilience," Dhaliwal added.