Empire Stadium Revived for 2010


Monday, December 28th, 2009 — 9:35am PST
Comments 24

It was the site of the Miracle Mile and where the Beatles took the stage in Vancouver, now after being demolished in 1993 Empire Stadium will once again be filled with cheering fans.


Life.com – August 1954, Photographer: Ralph Morse

Here are some historic events that took place in the old Empire Stadium, located on Hastings right near Hwy 1 in East Vancouver:

  • 1954 – The Games – The stadium opened for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, hence its name — Empire Stadium. 24 nations sent 662 competitors to compete in Vancouver for the Games. It was Canada’s largest stadium.
  • 1954 The Miracle Mile – Roger Bannister was the first man to break the “four-minute mile” and his win is immortalized in a statue at the entrance to the PNE on Hastings and Renfrew. John Landy, the man looking over his shoulder in the statue, also ran it in under four minutes but Bannister beat him across the line. The CBC has a great video archive clip of this.
  • 1957 Elvis Presley – A young Red Robinson from CKWX radio was there to emcee Elvis’ show at Empire. Elvis got one song in before the show had to stop because the crowd was too loud and excited, he later returned to the stag to play a few more songs. Robinson said afterward that it was the first time a performer stood in front of a crowd of 26,000 people in a rented stadium. No one had done it before, not even Sinatra. He also commented that as a result of Elvis’ appearance, “Vancouver was firmly established as a major destination for every Rock ‘N Roll act that followed.” [source]
  • 1958 Stadium Ski Jump – A 165-foot high ski jump hill was erected for the three-day Centennial Ski Jump Tournament at Empire Stadium. Though over 20,000 people attended the event, it’s said that 60,000 more watched from outside the fence for free. [source]. Hat tip to Dave Olson for this info as well.
  • 1964 The Beatles – Due to the screams of the wild a fanatic crowd, the Beatles show only lasted about 20 minutes before they had to stop playing – no one could hear them and people were rushing the gates.
  • The Whitecaps – In 1978 The Whitecaps were drawing crowds of close to 30,000 at Empire Stadium. [source]
  • Empire Stadium was also the first to have artificial grass in Canada, and towards the end of its run it seated 32,375. It also hosted the Grey Cup seven times between 1958 and 1974.

Photo credit: striderv on Flickr

While BC Place is otherwise engaged in 2010 with the Olympics and major renovations, the BC Lions will play their games at a new structure built on the site of Empire Stadium. Adjacent to the PNE (just East of the Coaster) it’s a great location with a fantastic North Shore view. The Vancouver Whitecaps will also play a few games at Empire once again during their inaugural MLS season in 2011. Here’s what the 27,500-seat temporary stadium will look like:

I’m looking forward to its return, in whatever form the incarnation may take. As my husband said last night, imagine a warm summer evening up in the stands with the aromas of the PNE’s candy floss and fresh popcorn wafting over the crowd as you take in a football game with a mountain backdrop. Sounds like a great Vancouver outing to me.

Update June 17, 2010 John had a sneak peek at the field this week. I posted his photos here.

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24 comments

  1. Ian Bell says:

    I really do hope that this ends up becoming a more permanent structure. I grew up watching Whitecaps games @ the old Empire Stadium, played there once at a soccer tournament and have nothing but fond memories.

    The resurrection of this stadium is also further proof that BC Place, retractable roof or not, is a wholly unnecessary white elephant that has seen little use in its 25 years of scarring the Vancouver skyline — a status quo unlikely to be dramatically affected by MLS.

  2. I haven’t been to many PNE concerts when the fair is going on, but I’d like to see more shows like that take place in a stadium on this location. Or better yet, this offers the PNE a venue to have a real main stage for large name acts and then a second stage in the heart of the PNE grounds.

    Even after that, why not have more concerts at an outdoor stadium like this? Sporting events would be great for sure, but I love the idea of seeing a rock show with mountains as a back drop to the stage, rain or shine. It’d be a true Vancouver experience.

  3. august95 says:

    My Dad used to take me an my sister to Whitecap games. We would sit in the end zone with the security guard baby sitter, a bag of nally’s chips and all the other kids.

    It was the best time.

  4. In life people have to make exceptions and work together all the time. You live in the city, next to the fair grounds and once in awhile you’ll be incovenienced.

    Do you enjoy being so close to the PNE when the fair is on? The Lions play 10 home games a year and there is plenty of parking on the grounds itself. I for one am hoping to use the actual lots to hold our tailgate parties.

    I’m sorry you’ve been incovenienced, but the Lions need somewhere to play. I would venture to guess that once trhe stadium is no longer needed, that this park will be left in better condition than it was. I was there for a practice this year and the facilities weren’t in the best of shape, including the field. Perhaps the field turf will be left behind, leaving a permanent all weather field for your kids in the future. I’ve heard part of the renos at BC Place will include a new playing surface.

    Take the kids to game, enjoy the atmosphere. Some of my best memories as a kid are from sitting in Empire Stadium!

  5. Bruce says:

    I’m all for this facility being built as a permanent structure.

  6. Sam Anderson says:

    I’m really excited for Tempire next year, although we’ll see if I feel the same way when we’re in the midst of a downpour with three more quarters to go.

    People have been complaining about BC Place as an eyesore for years, but when you create something out of concrete that can house 60,000 people, it’s bound to be less than pretty. Compared to its much smaller neighbour GM Place it definitely isn’t the better looking of the two, but so what? It’s what’s going on under the dome that matters.

    As for the neighbours complaining about the extra noise, traffic and cars parked on your street, I’m sympathetic to your concerns; however, you did choose to live next to the PNE, and the annual disruptions from that will be far more numerous than the ten (fingers crossed for 11!) games at Empire next season.

    I’ll be either parking downtown and taking transit, or parking in the lots (depending on how ridiculous event parking runs), so that’s one fewer car parking in your backyard. And rather than having a barbecue at home, why not come out to the game?!

  7. Daryl, might I suggest you take up your complaint up about parking with Impark? If they weren’t thieves who jack the price to $20-30 dollars for “events” then far fewer people would be roaming your neighbourhood looking for cheap parking.

  8. LB says:

    Daryl – have you contacted the Whitecaps? I understand they’re quite active in youth soccer in the area: http://www.whitecapsfc.com/community/youth/ Maybe there is a great opportunity for the kids here as well?

  9. Dom Richards says:

    Very interesting article, especially the historic events. I never knew that Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile occurred at Empire stadium.

    I for one hope the new structure remains, permanently. As people have commented, the location is great and it would be a perfect venue for future outdoor concerts and shows. I would like to see the local communities and sports groups given easy access to the stadium once BC Place is ready though.

    As for BC Place, I think the improvements and new roof should go ahead. Once it’s complete, I believe we’ll see more major sporting events and exhibitions coming to the city. I hope they’ll continue with the plan for a grass pitch there also. Vancouver is lucky to have a major stadium in the heart of downtown.

  10. Daryl says:

    Firstly, my apologies to Rebecca for using her blog to get on my high-horse.

    The loss of Empire Stadium to the community is a far more significant impact than the annual fair. The fair is only 17 days, and although an inconvenience, any disruptions are limited to a short time span.

    The construction of the “temporary” facility will see the field lost to the community for more than a year. It may be only 10 home Lions games and a few Whitecaps games, but it is understood that the field will be lost to the community the moment construction begins, and we will then have limited & restricted access once it has been completed.

    If you think I’m a whiner, think about losing your local park/rink/community centre etc.. to a commercial enterprise for a year without any consultation or compensation.

  11. As a Lions season ticket holder, I’m really excited for next season and the atmosphere this stadium will bring.

    At the same time, I’m not as down on BC Place as Ian is. It’s a wonderful facility to watch a sporting event view wise, and with the new roof and other upgrades to the facility, some of which we saw already this year with improved concessions and washroom, BC Place will be one of, if not the premier multi-purpose stadium in Canada.

    The new roof will be a visual improvement. World class cities need world class facilities. Getting rid of BC Place and not replacing it would be a mistake.

    It would be nice if someone had the means to build a smaller, permanent stadium at Empire, or if this temporary facility was somehow preserved for Amateur sports, but it sounds as though once it’s no longer needed it’s gone.

  12. Daryl says:

    I’m not normally one of those NIMBY people… but for this I make an exception.

    While everyone is enjoying the game on a Friday & Saturday night, my neighbours and I will be dealing with the literally thousands of cars circling our neighborhood looking for free parking. In doing so, they make the streets more dangerous for our kids, cause massive traffic jams in residential streets, and severly limit our ability to host bbq’s and parties as our friends now have no where to park.

    But worst of all it means the loss of a park that was widely used by many in the neighborhood. Will the Lions and Whitecaps open up their field for More Sports (moresports.org) to run youth soccer camps in the spring?

    In it’s current configuration the field comprises two soccer fields, a softball diamond and a 600m running track which are widley used by the community and local teams. At best, if the community is given access to the site, all we will have is one socer field.

    Given the lack of consultation with both the City, the Parks Board and the community (only the PNE was involved in this decision) it is assumed that no access will be given to the community once construction begins in the spring.

    Wile you’re enjoying the game, give some thought to the kids who have been displaced then tell me how good the popcorn tastes.

  13. Cody says:

    im a bc lions fan and i am very excited for this stadium to be built. but i am concerned because if they do built it are they just gonna get rid of it when bc place is done? in my opinion i think they should use that stadium for high school football and minor sports such as soccer, football, rugby, baseball and other outdoor sports. if they do terror it down then its just a huge waste of money. it can be a good sports facility if they dont terror it down.

  14. susan says:

    I can understand the sense of loss and disruption for area residents. However, if you were to organize yourselves and voice your concerns to the Lions, PNE and other parties involved I’m sure they would be willing to work with you. The BC Lions are a very community-minded organization and they do a lot to encourage sport and fitness among youth.

    As far as increased traffic on residential streets, I would think that parents in the area would have already instilled good safety practices in their children. The PNE is two weeks straight of increased traffic, every day, from morning to late in the evening. The football games are a 4 hour window, one night a week, if that, from July to November. I would be shocked to learn that parents allow their children to play outside, unsupervised, on the streets of the east side after dinner time. If that’s the case, they ought to concern themselves with far greater safety risks than people looking for parking spots.

  15. Dave S says:

    As a resident who lives on the hill above the site I think this will totally sucks and my worst fear is that it will become permanent.

    BTW the noise and traffic go on for several hours before and AFTER the game. Public urination in my neighborhood by assholes walking back to their cars parked for free on our streets WILL HAPPEN.

    They will be noisy too. Drunk and talking loudly, laughing, and shouting goodbyes to their friend without a single though to the folks trying to sleep in the house they parked in front of.

    It happens during the PNE and soon it will happen with every game they host. Not consulting our community is a tell tail sign that the PNE knows IT WILL BE AN INCONVENIENCE for residents.

    I plan to fight it with every available resources

  16. Randy says:

    How is it that a tax-exempt registered charitable association negotiated away five sports fields in a city park, with nowhere to go for nine sports leagues with 3,000 youth and adult athletes? Two softball diamonds, two soccer fields, and one track are gone, as of this week for at least two years, and possibly forever.

    Would this happen in any other neighbourhood in Vancouver? Does anyone remember how “the city” reacted when a golf course was threatened by a Treaty settlement (if it indeed ever was)?

    The Lions and Caps do need a place to play; that is a fact. By the community’s count, that means 20 games (2 seasons) for the Lions and about 17 games (one season) for the Caps. The PNE Administration–which drafted the Council Motion itself–has also asserted its intent to put on numerous other large events as well, as many as they can schedule. As it stands now, there will be no community oversight, or even advanced notice, of this or any other use of this new stadium.

    Hastings Park has parking for about 3,000 cars, at most. Over 12,000 cars and service trucks are expected for these 40-50 days and nights of events–yes 2-3 times more days than the Fair. With media, athletes, and stadium services included, 28,000+ is a large crowd to gather and disperse at the same time. This is no PNE with people coming and going all day, and there is no SkyTrain or RAV station within an easy walk.

    Honestly, how would any other community in Vancouver respond? Answer honestly.

    Hastings-Sunrise just wants a place for its growing population of kids to play and recreate; they want their common law right of access to and peaceful enjoyment of their homes; and they want to know how this was negotiated behind the back of both the Council and Parks Board, and without a single dollar from this public space coming to the community or to our penniless city.

  17. G says:

    It is nice to get the stadium back with its scenic location and nostalgia that comes with it but . . . . . . .

    First, it should have never left in the first place. It always seemed like the perfect place for a stadium. NO matter where you go, there will always be residents pissed off with the cars, parking, etc. Remember, you bought a house in the area so you know there will be things that come with the territory.

    My only beef is the cost. There is soo much money going into this thing that taxpayers don’t really need. If we are putting the money into this, it should stay a while or make it into something we can all use more regularly. Sometimes, this city builds and pays for new things but rip them down right after.

  18. M says:

    It will be nice to have a new stadium but I will miss the nostalgic gravel running track that they had there. I trained there every week in summer 2009, it had a special atmosphere and the track had stone markers indicating every 100m. In the middle was a well maintained grass park. Perfect for a peaceful track session. I guess there will be no public access to it anymore.

  19. E says:

    for those saying that it’s only two weeks compared to a summer of inconvience. What about Playland? It opens up fairly soon and will run till the end of september or thereabouts. Yeah, I get that these events are high profile, but seriously you’re complaining that your kids will be put in a dangerous situation? It’s like buyin a condo downtown and then complaining that it’s noisey because cambie street goes right by it. How about some owner responsibility? Granted, the PNE was supposed to leave the Hasting Park Grounds by like 2001 or something, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen.

  20. ryan says:

    hey maybe this will add some new life in to that lame park called
    Playland which hasnt had a new major attraction added in years it has only removed them over the years like the wild mouse and many others over the years and for people that live near the park and complain I have only one answer for you MOVE! as the pne has been there way before you,

  21. Larry says:

    I’m a little biased. I work for both the P.N.E., and for BC Place Stadium. I knew of this quite some time before it was announced. Like others, I really hope between all the partners(PNE< BC PLACE< SFU< UBC< VANCOUVER WHITECAPS ETC) they can find a way to keep this structure. What is old is new again. With 2 major universities, high school foot ball, Rugby Canada,and so on, I really believe they can make this "temporary stadium" a full time stadium. For those of us old enough that remember the old days, it was fun. In reality we have decent weather here to mid October,and the CFL regular season is over in late October,or early November. Just move the games to a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, instead of night, like they did before BC Place was built. If they can watch games outside in the rest of Canada, we can do it here also.

  22. Marion Cronen (Dorush) says:

    Well all of you have nothing on me as far as memories and the old stadium .. wow reading all this and seeing old pics of it sure is getting the emotions going .. I grew up at the corner of Cassiar and Franklin ..yup my house is no longer there ..(cause they just had to put in the right turn lane to head down Hastings St).. if you stand on the other side of that connector and look towards the PNE you will see how close i lived there from the time i was born till i was about 12 then moved to Triumph and Cassiar .. till i was about 17 when my dad had to move cause they built the Connector.. and tore down all those old house they had there .. i had so many memories of the BC Lions Games and the soccer games .. as a lil kid i used to park cars in our front yard and in my dads garage when he worked the night shift .. we had our usual parkers that if we werent home they would still park there and leave the money or pay next time ..
    and that empty parking lot at the corner of Hastings and Cassiar with the entrance to it on Franklin st .. was our playground in the winter time .. ahhh the fond memories of the toboganing down those steep hills into the parking lot was great .. yup even have old 8mm home movies of it also .. and some of the old Empire stadium .. I hated to see that torn down it was so sad.. anyone even remember the old service station on that corner.. ??.. even though i no longer live in BC . it would be so cool to see the stadium back again and those two runner statues back were they belong .. 🙂 .. and oh man do i remember those concerts in the summers .. didnt have to buy a ticket to go see it .. ya sat at your front steps and listened to it .. and all the free football games .. yup those were the good old days .. and for those of you worried about the traffic around your house and the kids .. dont ya think you should spend more time teaching your kids about street safety ??.. and ya you knew that PNE was there when you bought that house .. it wasnt like s surprise when you moved in .. OH wow i didnt know that was there … lol. trust me in a few yrs you get used to it .. you wont even know it is there …

    Well hope they keep this stadium up after they are done ..

    Marion Cronen (Dorush)

  23. Chris Thomas says:

    Empire Stadium was a dump. Go to games in Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, and even Hamilton. B.C. place’s facilities are 10x better. Great memories from being a kid going to Empire Stadium, but B.C. Place is where people want to go, being downtown and making a day of it. With the roof being retractable next year downtown will be buzzing again. For all those hoping to keep this tin can structure, forget about it. Dont you think the city of Vancouver would have let the Whitecaps owner build the new waterfront stadium if that was the case? This year will be alot of fun for the Lions season ticket holders and we will see if the people beaking off about sitting outdoors acually show up when its poring rain(aka, regina vs. b.c. oct 31, 1981). See you at B.C. place 2011!

  24. Love the history here it’s nostalgic. I think the turning point from olden days to modern times was the synthetic grass installation, but then I guess it’s only a matter of time before the artificial grass is outdated and there will be something else.

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