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Thousands of Vancouverites will flock to Canada’s favourite urban green space this weekend when the city’s iconic Stanley Park celebrates its 125th birthday with a mammoth free-entry party.

The jam-packed 24 and 25 August programme comprises everything from nature walks to live bands – a suitably eclectic roster for a 400-hectare oceanfront hangout that’s often termed “Canada’s Central Park”. Opened in 1888 – two years after the city was founded – and named after then governor-general Lord Stanley, the park’s diverse history will echo throughout the weekend.

The tree-lined space, which receives an estimated eight million annual visitors, is being divided into five zones for the festivities. Kids will be the focus at the Family Fun zone near Lumberman’s Arch, with storytelling, stilt-walkers and dance displays to keep things lively. First Nations artisans and cultural performers will also be based in this zone, recalling the fact that the park is regarded as part of traditional Coast Salish territory; there were still First Nations locals living on this shoreline when Stanley Park opened.

The region’s rainforest flora and fauna are also long-time residents. The Ecoharmony zone, hosted by the Stanley Park Ecology Society, will introduce visitors to the plants and critters – such as raccoons and great blue herons – that call the area home, especially around Lost Lagoon, a tranquil nature reserve just steps from the busy city streets.

But the park has never been just a natural oasis. In its early days, it was an open canvas for recreational pursuits, housing everything from a zoo to a bandstand;  attractions such as the Vancouver Aquarium and Miniature Train, plus the Fish House restaurant all  remain popular park fixtures. Recalling this lively leisure aspect, the party’s Brockton Sportsapalooza zone, home to an old-school cricket pavilion that overlooks the shoreline’s jogger-packed seawall trail, will host exhibition rugby and cricket matches throughout the weekend.

The pleasure park approach is underlined in the final two zones. The Memory Lane area will offer Shakespeare recitations, tours of the Malkin Bowl outdoor theatre and plays performed by local drama troupes.

But the party really kicks off at the Live at Second Beach zone. Stanley Park Brewery beer – not actually made here, but named for a beermaker that once operated at the park’s entrance – will fuel the crowds through 16 toe-tapping acts including indie favourites Born Ruffians, bluegrass band the Washboard Union and Ontario-based rockers Arkells.

Lord Stanley himself, whose opened-armed statue is located not far from the park’s Georgia Street entrance, would no doubt approve of the birthday shenanigans. During the park’s official opening ceremony, he famously declared: “To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs for all time, I name thee Stanley Park.”

John Lee is the Vancouver Localite for BBC Travel

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