Opened in 1892, the Hastings Racecourse is Vancouver’s longest continuously used professional sports facility.
Establishing a Park
In 1888 City Council sent a request to the provincial government in Victoria requesting a grant of land in the Hastings Townsite (then provincial property and not part of the city) for a new park. The subsequent grant of 160 acres (60 hectares), known as East Park, was to be used by the City “for the use, recreational and enjoyment of the public.” Two years later, the City received a request from a group of interested citizens for a small parcel of the new park to be used for horse racing. The new track was intended to relocate the popular horse racing activities that took place near Howe and Nelson, near the original Hotel Vancouver.
BC’s Jockey Club: A ‘Who’s who” of the early city
In 1890, 16 acres were leased to the newly formed British Columbia Jockey Club for their horse racing activities. The Jockey Club members were a who’s who of the early city; they included city council members, prominent businessmen and even a former Lt. Governor of the province. By 1892 a race track had been built and regular races were held. Getting to the track was a bit of an adventure since the streetcar didn’t reach the area until the early 1900s so racegoers trundled out on the rough roads by carriage or took advantage of a specially chartered boat on race days. Horses were shipped over from Victoria by steamer from the earliest days to participate in race meets.
PNE and Playland
In 1910 Hastings Park became the home to the annual agricultural fair and a streetcar line was in place for the opening day ceremonies. In 1926, HappyLand (the predecessor to Playland) opened in East Park. The Hastings racecourse blossomed in popularity in the early 20th century. “Hastings on a race day back then [1930s] was the equivalent of the Granville Strip now on a Saturday night,” writes Kevin Chong, author of a book on the Hastings racecourse. Chong adds that the racecourse was a hub for socialites, sports enthusiasts and Vancouver’s well-to-do.
World War II and Japanese Internment
In early 1942, over 8,000 Japanese Canadians were incarcerated at Hastings Park before being sent to internment sites in the B.C. interior or to work camps across the country. Confiscated cars and trucks were parked in the middle of the Hastings Park Racecourse. The Custodian of Enemy Property sold these vehicles and all other properties at auction without notifying the owners.
In the 1950s, the racing oval was expanded to its current five-eighths of a mile, which necessitated the demolition of the PNE’s original Giant Dipper rollercoaster. The 5,000-seat grandstand was built in 1965, the same year the north end was levelled. According to legend, cars from the PNE demolition derby were used in the landfill. New grandstands were added in 1965 and three years later, lights were installed and night racing was introduced.
In recent years, attendance at the horse races has declined, although new events like movie nights and wiener dog races are bringing in a younger crowd. The racecourse received a boost in attention and popularity after Mexican-born jockey Mario Gutierrez joined the Hastings Racecourse and won the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2012. Gutierrez had emigrated to Canada in 2006 and began riding at Hastings, winning the track’s riding titles in 2007 and 2008. Gutierrez again made recent headlines for winning the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
The race course continues to host special events for the community, and free live horse racing for all ages.
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