Scenes at the Italian Garden in Hastings Park, Vancouver

The Italian Garden, or il giardino italiano, is a lovely spot in east Vancouver. The garden isn’t very big, but it’s attractive, especially when the flowers are in bloom. It’s a pleasant place to relax at any time of the year. In August of 2019, it had unusual visitors. The garden was the site of an animated dinosaur exhibition that was part of the annual fair at the PNE. The fair is held at Hastings Park on the grounds of the Pacific National Exhibition. It always extends into the Italian Garden, which is located in the park.

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Some of the fountains in the Italian Garden

The garden is enjoyable to visit, especially for a nature and art lover. The area contains carefully chosen trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers. It also contains lawns, interesting sculptures and some attractive fountains. There are plenty of places to sit down as well as a very long picnic table. The table is a great place for a small or a big group to eat. Some of the seats in the garden are located under a grape arbour.

The garden has different sections with distinct characteristics. It’s sometimes referred to as “The Italian Gardens” for this reason. It was created by the local Italian-Canadian community and is free to enter except during the two-week PNE fair. The fair offers people a chance to enter the fairground and the garden for free or for a reduced amount if certain conditions are met.

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More sculptures in the garden

Perhaps the most popular place in the garden for families is the fountains and its channels. The water flows out of the mouths of the Italianate sculptures of men’s heads and out of the jars borne by some women. The men’s heads remind me of characters blowing the wind around the Earth that I’ve seen in old books.

The fountains are attractive for adults and great fun for children, who love playing in the water. There’s a playground in Hastings Park adjacent to the garden. I expect lots of youngsters urge their parents to let them visit the fountains before they go home.

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Part of the Dinosaur Stomp display in the garden

Flower beds and the opera walk are located on one side of the fountains. On the other is a hill. Children enjoy climbing the hill and then rolling down it. The hill also serves as a seating area for people to view stage shows during the fair.

The opera walk is a path contains sculptures showing the heads of major characters in popular Italian operas. Viewing the heads at close range is an interesting sensation. The opera and the fountain characters were created by a local sculptor named Ken Clarke in 2000-2001. Behind the opera walk is an area with shrubs, flowers, and the picnic table.

The Italian Garden and the adjoining playground can be entered on Renfrew Street. It’s not necessary to walk through Hastings Park in order to find the park. During the fair a temporary fence along Renfrew Street blocks that entrance to the park, however.

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Rigoletto

The Immigrant Memorial Monument in the garden honours the first Italian people who settled in the area around Hastings Park. The sculptor was Sergio Comacchio. As is the case for the other sculptures in the park, the plant displays around the sculpture add to its beauty. The monument is located in its own mini-garden, which is in turn connected to other ones.

One of the mini-gardens has a small statue of Christopher Columbus as its centrepiece. This statue was transferred to the garden from a site elsewhere in the city. I’m not a fan of the sculpture, but the garden around it is nice.

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The Immigrant Memorial Monument with a dinosaur model in the background

The dinosaurs were my favourite part of the 2019 fair at the PNE. They were large and quite realistic based on our current knowledge of the animals. The animations involved head, mouth, eye, and tail movements. They also involved front leg movements on the bipedal animals as well as vocalizations. These features added realism to the models.

I thought children might have been afraid of the Tyrannosaurus rex, which was the largest dinosaur and towered above us. Even the young children that I saw seemed fascinated by the model instead of being scared, however, especially when it began to move.

The movement of the models was controlled by a motion sensor (except for one that could be moved by a control panel), though a pause seem to be required after each animation before the movement could start again. I’ve written an article about the animals in the dinosaur display and the features of the real-life animals depicted in the models.

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T. rex and Triceratops

The dinosaur exhibit was held on a grassy lawn just beyond the immigrant monument. This was a nicer and more naturalistic setting than the one used for the dinosaur display at previous fairs. The area where the public walked was looking quite sad by the end of the fair, though. I’m pretty sure that it needed to be reseeded. The lawn is normally used for games such as bocce, which is an Italian form of lawn bowling.

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Purple coneflowers or Echinacea in the Italian Garden

Hastings Park has some other interesting areas to visit. The Hastings Racetrack and an amusement park named Playland are located in the park. Playland isn’t open during winter, but it’s very popular. The hours of operation should be checked on the organization’s website before a visit because they are irregular.

The park has some lovely natural areas, but it isn’t completely green as its name might suggest. It has become very built-up over the years and streams running through the park have been covered up. I’m glad that these situations are gradually being reversed.

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Black-eyed Susan flowers are a lovely feature in the Italian Garden.

The stadiums and other buildings in Hastings Park aren’t particularly interesting to see, though some popular events are held in some of them during the year. In contrast, the Momiji Japanese Garden and a natural area called the Sanctuary are interesting to visit. The Sanctuary contains two ponds and walking trails that travel around them. 

The Japanese garden is quite small, but it’s attractive and peaceful. It was created in memory of the sad and shameful internment of Japanese-Canadians in Hastings Park during the second world war.

An area next to Hastings Park that’s worth exploring is Creekway Park. It contains a walking trail that enables a visitor to reach New Brighton Park, which is located next to Burrard Inlet. The aquatic areas in Hastings and Creekway Parks were created by the uncovering of previously hidden streams running through the area.

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A scene in the Momiji Japanese Garden

The “greening” of Hastings Park isn’t complete and will take some time to finish. The changes that have been completed are nice, though. Plans include improving the connection to the waterfront, creating a lawn to link the Italian Garden to the Sanctuary, and uncovering more streams.

A map of the area would be useful for an explorer, though helpful signs are posted in the park. A map and information about the park are available at the City of Vancouver website.

When I first visited the annual fair at the PNE, the fair was the main attraction of Hastings Park for me. As nature is being given a chance to flourish and green areas are appearing, the park is becoming an enjoyable place to visit even when the fair isn’t in operation. I’m looking forward to the creation of more green sections in the park. The sections that have been created are already nice to visit, though, including the Italian Garden. It’s my favourite section of Hastings Park.

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