A few weekends ago I met a man who changed my summer forever. His name was Little Brown Guy, and he won me forty bucks at the Hastings Racecourse. While I’m not necessarily an advocate of gambling, it’s worth mentioning that LBG and his pals are an exciting feature of an oft-forgotten Vancouver landmark that deserves a little attention – and not just because it’s free to enter.
The Hastings Racecourse, situated adjacent to the PNE at the bottom of Hastings Park (formerly East Park), was established in 1892 on a 15-acre plot of land by the BC Jockey Club. Three decades earlier, the area surrounding the future PNE site and track had been known as New Brighton, a weekend retreat for leisurely New Westminsterites who were drawn to its scenic views, the New Brighton Hotel, and the area’s propensity for pioneering (New Brighton was home to Vancouver’s first telephone, first road, its first real-estate transaction, and more). The construction of the new track was intended to relocate the already popular horseracing activities that took place near the corner of Howe and Nelson, near the original Hotel Vancouver. Chosen for its central location – only 4 miles from the downtown Granville Townsite – the track preceded the development of the PNE’s Annual Fair by 18 years and provided the focus for East Park’s entertainment until Playland – known originally as HappyLand – opened in 1926.
The original half-mile oval experienced tremendous renovation efforts spanning the twentieth century, including a mid-century rotation and relocation requiring the demolition of several PNE buildings and the original rollercoaster. With horseracing as the opening event for much of the PNE’s early years, the track was a popular spot for visitors as well as local fans, echoing the excitement and popularity it had experienced during the late 1890s. During the Second World War, races were transferred to Hastings from the Brighouse and Lansdown tracks to accommodate gas rationing, proving that even in times of crises Vancouverites loved to place their bets. A second renovation prior to the 1965 season saw the construction of the grandstand, lengthening of the track, and is rumoured to have employed old cars from the PNE Demolition Derby to level the 19-foot slope difference. Financial restraints and the numerous changes in park ownership over the years reflect a focus on attendee experience, with trainers noting that the track features the same barns it did 50 years ago.
Currently boasting over 45-acres of land, the racecourse remains a bustling mecca of sport offering gambling enthusiasts, tourists, families, and thrill-seekers of all ages a taste of our city’s great views and fast-paced entertainment. Even if you’re not interested in placing any bets (despite the process being notably geared towards first-timers), this historic attraction takes full advantage of our enviable Vancouver summer: hot dogs, sun, and mountain panoramas. What’s better than a crowded beach and sand in your warm beer? A horse, of course!