Excerpts on Hastings Park and New Brighton Park from: The First Hundred Years
An Illustrated Celebration By Richard (Mike) Steele
(Published by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation in 1988)
- Chapter 3: The Early Years (excerpt 41, 53, 55, 56, 58-61)
- Chapter 4: Expansion and Recreation: 1910-1922 (excerpt pages 63, 75, 80)
- Chapter 5: The Golden Years: 1923-1931 (excerpt pages 85-86)
- Chapter 7: The War Years: 1940-1945 (excerpt page 125)
- Chapter 9: Development and Consolidation: 1959-1979 (excerpt page 147)
- Chapter 10: The Final Years of the Century: 1980-1988 (excerpt page 184)
- Chapter 11: The Second Century (excerpt page 198)
- A Park Board Chronology 1888 to 1988(pages 211-271)
The Early Years (pages 41, 53, 55, 56, 58-61)
In 1889 two new parks were acquired, Clark’s Park (later changed to Clark Park) and Hastings Park (which became Exhibition Park and Hastings Community Park).
Hastings Park, a 160-acre (64.8-hectare) expanse of thick forest, gullies and swamp in Hastings Townsite, was granted to the city for park purposes by the provincial government.
Until 1902 the park system was composed of only three parks: Stanley, Hastings and Clark Parks; all were gifted or leased.
As of 1988, eight decades of controversy:
Hastings Park began as a 160-acre (64 hectares) land grant from the provincial government to the City of Vancouver in 1889. City council had originally petitioned the province for a mere 65 acres (26.3-hectares) with the intention of establishing a park in the Hastings Townsite but they happily accepted what appeared to be a generous gift from Victoria.
Subsequent analysis of the provincial grant have suggested that the motive behind this concession might have been less than altruistic: by granting a parcel of this size the province ensured that Vancouver would extend its road system to the east, thus increasing the value of other major provincial holdings in the sparely-populate region.
There is however no reason to speculate as to Vancouver’s intentions for the site;
according to Mayor Oppenheimer:
This park will no doubt become a pleasant pleasure resort in the near future, having many equal advantages with Stanley Park. This park must eventually become a constant resort for all lovers of romantic woodland scenery and lovely groves.”
It would be more than difficult to reconcile this vision of 1889 with the reality 1988: Oppenheimer’s “groves” and “romantic woodland scenery” were displaced by the Vancouver Exhibition, a forbearer of the Pacific National Exhibition, which began development in 1909.
The city leased 15 acres (6.1 hectares) of Hasting Park to the jockey club in 1890. The first racetrack would be built in 1892.
Confusion over the events of this period that resulted in the Park board eventually losing control of all but a vestige of the original Hastings Park have led to a seriously flawed interpretation of the board’s role in these affairs. As a consequence the board has been unfairly maligned and implicated as a contributing agent in the park’s alienation.
A telling argument of the jockey club to justify its used of part of the park was later employed with effect by the Vancouver Exhibition Association for its proposed use of 60 acres (24.3-hectares): that the objections of the Park Board carried no weight because the Board has ignored Hastings Park in the past.
The stark truth was that, as already demonstrated, the Board was so chronically under-funded that it is a wonder that it was able to clear a few rough trails in the park and erect an entrance sign (and even these modes improvement were made to a park that was situated in an area with a limited population and poor accessibility – patron of the track traveled by boat or train from downtown Vancouver.
By 1907, when the Vancouver Exhibition Association (VEA) began lobbying council in earnest, the commissions were attempting to develop nine parks with a budget of $29,777.24 (to put that amount in the purchasing perspective of the times it should be noted that in 1888-9, city council spent $30,000 to build a narrow, dirt road around Stanley Park, clear a playing field at Brockton Pint and construct a simple wooden bridge across Coal Harbour).
The Board fought long and hard to keep the VEA out, declaring itself utterly opposed to “..leasing of any park or portion of park to any person or corporation..” but the battle was lost when council produced its trump card: Hastings Park had never been turned over the Park Board.
In 1908 the Vancouver Exhibition Association (VEA) was granted a lease of 60 acres of Hastings Park (ironically the VEA, unable to reach an agreement with the BC Jockey Club for shared use of the site, ejected the latter from the park in 1909). The first Exhibition opened unofficially on August 15, 1910 and by October the same year lobbied council for another block of 20 acres. By 1913 the remaining portion of the park became a popular picnic area for Vancouverites (streetcar lines were extended eastward from the city just in time for the 1910 opening) but in 1914, after a series of bitter debates and press conferences called by the Park Board, all but a two block long strip south of Hastings Street was handed over to the VEA. This meager balance would become known as Hastings Community Park.
Hastings Park continued to serve in some ways much as a public park for many years to come: proper picnic grounds and even golf links were provided but by 1935 the last of the prominent natural features, the Ravine, was filled in to satisfy the VEA’s appetite for building sites. Periodically local citizen’s groups would suggest the return of the area to Park Board control but to no effect. The Board itself proposed a number of schemes that would utilize the main site to alleviate park shortages in the city’s East end (including the concept of a 500 acre park with the VEA forming part of a multi-use facility, in 1933) but met with no more success than the local residents’ efforts.
If there was any widespread opposition to the Exhibition it was directed not at the growing complex but rather at some of its components. Temperance and child welfare groups crusaded against “immoral” sideshow attractions in the “Skid Row” concessions along the Midway which offered the paying public such spectacles as “the horse with a human brain” and the “petrified woman from Arizona”; one Mount Pleasant minister complained that gambling was corrupting the city’s youth: “…as a result of the wheels…the children all over that district were operating small wheels, and, in order to get the necessary money to manipulate them, were in the habit of breaking into stores, and stealing.
The city’s population as a whole backed the Exhibition, frustrating Board attempts to regain a presence in the former park. As the grounds developed into a year-round facility and hub of Vancouver’s professional and amateur spots interest, the likelihood of Board involvement steadily diminished.
Major dissatisfaction of any form only began to emerge in the early 1970’s but the changes in the PNE operations were dramatic.
The PNE disruption of Minor Hockey schedules to accommodate an annual boat show resulted in scathing attacks from city council (according to one alderman, “Today this publicly owned facility is operated by a small, self-perpetuating society of businessmen solely for the profit of private promoters, hockey, football, racing, etc. Any benefits to the people are incidental”). The provincial government stepped in swinging too: one MLA was quoted as saying, “You bet your sweet bippy we want to change it into a giant community centre.” In 1973 the providence effectively assumed control of the PNE. In 1987 and 1988 the approaching expiry of the PNE lease (1994) would trigger renewed debate as to the future of the facility and the disposition of former Hastings Park.
Issues that would made that the future doubtful include: a continuing need for additional parkland in the area; increasing traffic congestion; a lack of available sites for housing and the high cost of upgrading the aging physical plant of the PNE complex (estimated at $60,000,000 or more.
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Expansion and Recreation: 1910-1922 (pages 63, 75, 80)
1910 was undeniably a year of extremes for the Park Board. While on the one hand it seemed to be fighting a rearguard action for control of Hastings Park and Deadman’s Island, on the other its certainty in future prosperity would lead to the first planning initiative in board history.
Strained Relations: council and Board clash
The relationship between the Park Board and city council continued its downward spiral in 1912 and 1913. Board estimates submitted to council for annual expenditures had been routinely and consistently reduced over Board protests since the beginning (a practice which would hold constant for much of the Board’s history), Deadman’s Island continued to be a thorn of contention (council wanted to locate marine facilities on the site), the continued erosion of Hasting Park seemed unstoppable and council would not entertain Board demands for a mill rate levy system (although budge allocations had indeed increased, the Board received a lesser percentage than most other civic departments. While Park Board revenue-producing operations (concession leases, boat rental, club leases, etcetera) owed their profit margin to commissioners’ efforts, the Board neither collected nor controlled the income; what portion, if any, the Board received was determined totally by council. Brockton Point athletic Grounds remained under council’s authority to the chagrin of the Park Board. The power struggle between the two elected entities seemed never to cease (and effectively never would).
In August 1912, the Board threatened to take the millrate issue before a Royal Commission and in the same month pledged to drop the responsibility for boulevard plantings and maintenance unless funds for these operations were immediately forthcoming.
Early in 1913 the Board lodged formal protest over council’s grant of the balance of Hastings Park to the VEA, to no avail. Matters worsened when council not only refused to demolish houses on English Bay properties bought for waterfront park development but insisted on renting the properties out and pocketing the revenue.
In 1920 the Park Board successfully blocked another incursion by the VEA into Hastings community park and pried an agreement out of council to notify the Board in advance of all future decisions by council that might affect the park system (wage and befits adjustments for civic employees were invariably ratified following approval of Board budgets; consequently the board was forced to reduce park and recreations expenditure to meet payroll requirements.
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The Golden Years: 1923-1931 (pages 85 & 86)
The Hastings Park dispute flared up briefly in 1923, with the East Ender’s ratepayers’ group circulating a “monster petition” demanding that the Exhibition-occupied portion of the park be returned to full Board control. This would mark the beginning of growing opposition to the VEA in the immediate community. The localized nature of the periodic protests which would recur from this time forward would preclude any change in the VEA’s (later PNE’s) physical statue quo.
In 1925 the Vancouver Exhibition began using part of Hastings Community Park for fair parking, with Board permission.
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The War Years: 1940-1945 (page 125)
Perception of just who was or was not the enemy in the summer of 1942 would cause the Board to make one of the blackest decisions in its history.
In December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, was Japan’s Day of Infamy”, then July 10, 1942 was the Park Board’s.
Hysteria added to racism in the months following the Japanese destruction of the Hawaiian naval base culminated in the round-up and deportation of Japanese-Canadians. Hastings Park’s Exhibition complex was employed as a holding area and processing centre. The conditions in which men, women and children were forced to spend long periods of time might charitably be described as deplorable; families were separated and compelled to endure overcrowding in the converted livestock building with primitive cooking and sanitary facilities.
In early July some of the interned Japanese-Canadian children were permitted by the soldiers to duty to escape the stifling heat by using the swimming pool in nearly New Brighton Park. Newspapers and citizens immediately criticized the board for allowing them this brief pleasure. Some of the Park Commissioner suggested that it be continued on compassionate grounds (unfortunately only the outcome of the resulting vote was recorded, not the names of those who voted for and against. But on July 10 the Board ruled that:
“All Japs be excluded from the use of this pool.”
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Development and Consolidation: 1959-1979 (page 147)
In 1959, many of the endeavours of the past few years were finally completed, including the Hastings Community park outdoor pool in August.
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The Final Years of the Century: 1980- 1988 (page 184)
Preliminary discussions on the fate of Exhibition Park (formerly Hastings Park) this year resulted in the formation of a joint study group of city council and the provincial government. Although hardly surprised by the fact, commissioners were nonetheless disappointed that once again that were not to play a role in the planning process (by this point, 1988, several interested Vancouver residents were seriously questioning the legality of the non-park use of the Exhibition site; momentum would be slow in building up but by 1988 an ad hoc coalition dedicated to restoring the property to full park status would be lobbying for an end to the PNE and a return of former Hastings Park to the park system).
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The Second Century (page 198)
At this point (1988), what will happen with this immense property in Vancouver’s East End is anybody’s guess although the issue will probably be resolved shortly.
Park deficiencies in this area of the city could b remedied with the restoration of Exhibition Park to the park system but there is no apparent consensus on whether this should be done. View range from making the entire property a park to allowing the existing facilities to be upgraded with no park provisions. Some park commissioners have suggested a compromise approach: retain and modernize some or all of the sports facilities and convert the remainder of the site in parkland (this might include enhanced access to New Brighton Park to the north and Hastings Community Park to the south).
For better or worse, the fate of Exhibition Park will soon be decided. If park or partial park use is a valid goal, the opportunity to achieve that goal is very brief indeed: the current lease expires in 1994.
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A Park Board Chronology 1888 to 1988 (pages 211-271)
1888 September 26th
First Park Committee meeting.
1888, September 27th
Stanley Park, a 950 acre military reserve, turned over to Vancouver, officially named and opened.
A second park, Hastings Park, 160 acres, is acquired from the provincial government.
Parks now number nine: Stanley, Clark’s (future Clark), Hastings Park (future Exhibition Park and Hastings Community Park), English Bay Park (future Alexandra Park), English Bay Beach, Cambie St, Grounds (future Larwill park, later leased for bus depot), Powell St. Grounds (future Oppenheimer Park), Harris St. Grounds (first McLean Park) and Bridge St. Grounds (future Strathcona Park, later City hall site)
First time an architect employed by Board for landscape design (at Hastings Park).
Board hears of council’s plans to lease Hastings Park to the Exhibition Association and reacts angrily.
Council leases 60 acres of Hasting Park of VEA. This decision would initiate a controversy that continues to the present day.
Board asks council to turn over balance of Hastings Park to it (120 acres remaining).
Hastings Park settlement: Board given control of part of future Exhibition Park and all of future Hastings Community Park.
First major naming of parks; Hastings Park renamed Prince Edward Park but local residents objected so reverted back to Hastings Park in August 1911.
First park design planning: Board hires architect to devise plans for several parks including Hastings Park.
Board lodges formal protest against council decision to remove remainder of Hasting Park from board control to meet VEA expansion plans.
Board and Council finally hammer out an agreement for Hastings Park. Board gets only portion of south of Hastings Street but with condition that council can lease even this to VEA if deemed necessary by VEA and council.
Board has little more than 10 acres of original 160 acres granted by the province. This minor portion is Hasting Community Park.
VEA now looking at possible expansion into Hastings Community Park, south the Hastings Street, increased awareness of local residents of park deficiencies in east Vancouver. Make any further concessions to the VEA by council politically dangerous.
Board informed by ratepayers association in east end that they are circulating a “monster petition” asking council to terminate lease of VEA and to turn entire area over the board.
First bamboo trees for parks (2) donated by John Callister and planted in Stanley Park and Hastings Community Park
Hastings Community Park. Board agrees to let Hastings Community Association operate area here as a parking lot sharing revenue with board.
Origin of pool at future New Brighton Park: lack of swimming facilities in East Vancouver complicated by dangerous waters at Second Narrows/Burrard Inlet. Commissioner Baynes believes that an outdoor pool could be built at north foot of Windermere St. and sketches a design for one. Area he chose speculatively to one day be New Brighton Park and pool.
Saltwater pool under construction at future New Brighton Park.
Hastings Community Park Athletic Association now constructing a community building.
New Brighton Park named. Hastings Park Recreation building finished, the first such structure in city that Board has been financially involved in.
Board attempts to secure control of part of Vancouver Exhibition controlled portion of Hastings Park, the Hastings Golf Course.
Board proposes development in cooperation with Exhibition Association and council, of a massive 500-acre park at Hastings. Would encompass all of Hastings Park, Hastings Community Park and Burrard Inlet Waterfront, but plan will not receive support from the other parties.
Hastings Park name changed to Exhibition Park. Only small strip south of Hastings Street will bear name of Hastings Community Park.
Police Commission asked Board to allow their stables to be transferred to Stanley Park from Exhibition Park, informing the Board that “…the manure could be used beneficially”. The Board approves the move.
Board gives the western block Hastings Community Park to council to cancel a $4000 debt owed to the city.
New Brighton Park field house construction approved.
Hasting Community Park outdoor pool opens.
Board under fire for decision to allow PNE to use New Brighton Park as a Marine Festival site. PNE would dramatically change the park to convert it for this use. Floods of protests from citizens and most school and community association in the $East End demand that the Board rescind its resolution. Board complies.
Public use of Exhibition Park during non-PNE period requested of council by board.
Repeated refusal of council to grant board the addition of city lands to Adanac Park create a major east end park triggers requests to the province asking that Exhibition Park be restored as a public park.
Board pressing for non-peak PNE use of Exhibition Park for community recreation.
Callister Park turned over to board by council after repeated complaints of PNE mismanagement.
New Brighton Pool: saltwater pool closed due to Burrard Inlet pollution.
New Brighton Pool: Woodward’s Foundation (of Mr. and Mrs. P. A. Woodward) donates $250,000 for the new pool project.
New Brighton Pool building approved by council, also agrees to match the Woodward Foundation grant of $250,000.
New Brighton Pool opens.
Council set $500,000 year rental fee for PNE to end of lease in 1994. Revenues to be used “exclusively” for social and recreational improvement in northeast sector of city.
Province and council form study group to assess future of Exhibition Park; Board not included in same.
Union/non-union controversy begins: Hastings Community Association request that only union companies be permitted to work on expansion projects at the Hastings Community Centre. Board has always awarded construction contracts to the lowest qualified bidder.
Union/non-union in dispute for Hastings Community Centre improvements: a split vote results in contract award not to lowest bidder but to lowest union bidder, despite fact that the winning bid exceeds eight others. By so doing the Board has contravened regulation which prohibits awarding a contract for an amount in excess of funds allocated for a project.
Board threatened with legal action over the Hastings community Centre construction issue by lawyers representing the firm which submitted the lowest bid.
Hastings Community Centre dispute resolved with a new vote that results in award to lowest bidder.
New Brighton Park: the acquisition of 5.75 acres for westward expansion achieved at a cost of $3,100,000.
The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation celebrates its 100th birthday.