“I didn’t use the park. Will update review when I do. I walked around it.”
#1 in Hastings-Sunrise
2901 East Hastings Street
Hastings Park is Vancouver in a time capsule.
Both it and Stanley Park were created in 1888 — but while Stanley became a mostly naturalistic and centrally planned jewel, Hastings became a constantly changing space reflecting the city’s changing desires. It’s where the Beatles sang, the Canucks played, and the PNE became the province’s cultural monolith of the 20th century.
It’s also a place that, under the original terms of a land transfer to the city, was originally intended to be wilderness. More intense battles over control and purpose of Hastings have raged since the 1990s, with control of the PNE transferred to the city in 2003. The exact evolution and breakdown of land overseen by the city, park board, or separate PNE board over the years is too complex for a short review, but suffice to say it contributes to the scattershot nature of the park.
For our purposes though, the main free “Hastings Park” areas in operation year round are three separate areas: the Italian Gardens, Sanctuary, and the Empire Fields/Slidey Slide Park region. Let us go through each quickly.
Italian Gardens: a mid-sized concrete area both intricately designed and completely random. There are modern play structures and a weird giant 1970s castle. Caricatures of famous Europeans carved into rocks, and also a giant cow, with a plaque that only says “cow”. There are detailed waterfalls and a long stone table beautiful for large picnics, and right next door there’s an excellent basketball court and skate bowl. It’s so unlike any park area in the city, and a complete delight.
Sanctuary: A large pond/small lake in the southwest corner of Hastings, built at the end of the 20th century. It’s sufficiently removed from the rest of the park, with wooded trails surrounding it, and after two decades of use it doesn’t feel too manufactured (even though, you know, the entire area is). There are docks that let you get closer to the water, a number of smartly designed sitting areas, and even some fish available for catching. It’s not essential, and a little too removed from the rest of the park, but certainly nice for locals to have.
Empire Fields: The big sports and playground area. One part has lighted turf fields, a bike park, and the Landy and Bannister statue commemorating the Miracle Mile at 1954 British Empire games (which you’re just going to have to accept was a big deal for Vancouver’s sense of ego at the time). The other part is called Slidey Slides Park (yes, that’s the real name) with tall steep slides and ample climbing equipment for older kids, including one horizontal climbing bridge that leads directly to a big climbing triangle. Both the sports fields and playground are arguably top 10 facilities of their type in the city — but being so close to Highway 1 and Hastings Street means there’s a constant din of noise, and there’s not exactly a lot to do in the immediate area unless you have extra money for Playland.
Each of these areas is lovely, and if we were scoring Vancouver’s parks without the design metric, Hastings would rank 2nd. But design matters, and combined Hastings’ individual areas don’t link up at all unless you’re making a concerted effort to see all parts of the park.
And why would you? The rides in Playland, slides in Slidey Slide Park, slot machines at the race track and fish in the Sanctuary have no real theme connecting them.
Except for the fact that they’re all part of the evolution of Hastings — and in their own way, part of the evolution of Vancouver.