In-person PNE Fair with lower capacity 'not possible in 2021,' event organizers say
VANCOUVER -- For the second year in a row, Vancouver's annual PNE Fair won't be running as it traditionally does due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a news release Wednesday, event organizers said "even a modified, lower capacity in-person PNE Fair will not be possible in 2021."
The announcement comes days after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there wouldn't be "big events of any sort, even outdoors" in the province this summer.
“It’s devastating. I don’t think we could have imagined we would be in a second year of this,” said PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance. “We were so hopeful, we are the place where British Columbia comes in good times and bad.”
Ballance says the group wanted to make the decision quickly about the fair to allow seasonal workers to look for other jobs. The annual fair directly hires about 4,300 people each year and supports 9,500 other jobs indirectly.
“The PNE is the largest employer of youth in the province, so it’s a lot of young workers who have been really hard hit during the pandemic,” said Andrew Ledger, president of CUPE 1004, which represents some of the fair's employees. “For the fair to be cancelled for a second year in a row is truly devastating for our members.”
Last week, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart asked for money from the province to save the fair, saying it would need $8 million in emergency aid to keep it going after the pandemic.
"COVID-19 restrictions have taken a significant toll on PNE revenue generation," Stewart said during a virtual news conference Friday. "The outlook is so dire that the PNE, as we now know and love it, could end, despite the City of Vancouver backstopping the PNE's ever-growing line of credit."
Any urgent funding would need to be approved by Melanie Mark, the Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. In a statement Wednesday, Mark said in part: “Everyone has fond memories of the PNE. It’s unfortunate to hear that the fair won’t go on this year … All three levels of government will need to work together to find a positive step forward for this iconic institution. I am proud the province’s budget 2021 committed an additional $100 million for tourism recovery, which includes support for major tourism attractions.”
The province does have COVID-19 recovery grants available for businesses, but those grants are just $30,000, with an extra $15,000 being offered to tourism businesses.
Both Ballance and Ledger are hopeful there will be some kind of experience at the PNE this year, most likely similar to what was done last year.
Last year, the PNE opened as a drive-thru experience with visitors able to order food from some long-time vendors, a SuperDogs tail-gate party and some entertainment.