For a century the Pacific National Exhibition has entertained families each summer with a mix of hair-raising Midway rides, live music and agricultural exhibits. But in 1942 the fun fair was a prison camp for thousands of displaced Japanese-Canadians
The 1942 relocation of the Japanese was a response to heightened fears along coastal British Columbia during the Second World War that Japan intended to invade. There was no evidence that resident Japanese-Canadians presented a risk or were in any way disloyal. Nonetheless, anxious authorities, fuelled by the anti-Asian racism that was prevalent at the time, decided to remove everyone of Japanese ancestry from the coast. They were sent to camps in the interior of the province or across the mountains to other provinces.
Hastings Park, site of the PNE, was the gathering place for the Japanese. They were registered and held in hastily-erected quarters in the livestock buildings until they were shipped out by train to the interior. Nearly 22,000 people were swept up in the operation. Their property was sold off to pay for the relocation. It was one of the worst violations of human rights in Canadian history, for which the government formally apologized in 1988.
Following the war the PNE re-opened and continues to welcome more than 850,000 visitors every summer.