Vancouver is awash in festivals that serve as a testament to the city’s diversity. Where else can you indulge in Greek, Italian, Caribbean, or Taiwanese food in the presence of tens of thousands of your neighbours?
Below, you can read about 13 local events taking place this summer that are building bridges and promoting intercultural understanding.
This year, the theme is “Mangiamo! Let’s Eat!” in this celebration of all things Italian—and it’s expected to bring 300,000 people to Commercial Drive. On one of seven car-free piazzas between Venables Street and the Grandview Cut, you’ll find authentic pasta, cannoli, salumi, gelato, and other goodies. You can also check out performances by pop, jazz, opera, and theatre artists and learn a little more about why Italy is inextricably linked to the rise of western civilization.
(June 18 and 19)
Dine on salmon barbecue, smørrebrød (Danish open-face sandwiches), and, of course, Swedish meatballs in this annual celebration at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. The day begins with the Paavo Nurmi Run in honour of the great Finnish middle- and long-distance runner who won nine gold and three silver medals over three Summer Olympics between 1920 and 1928. The festival also includes performances by the Knotty Trolls, Nipponilainen (combining Finnish and Japanese musical traditions), the Scandinavian Festival Choir, and a Midsummer Spelmanslag, which features a group of folk musicians.
Singing, dancing, canoeing, and a teepee village will be part of the fun at John Hendry Park (Trout Lake) from noon to 5 p.m. But first there’s a pancake breakfast served with a large dollop of heart at 9 a.m. at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society (1607 East Hastings Street). It’s followed by a friendship walk to Trout Lake for the main event.
Expect about 100,000 people for Western Canada’s largest Hellenic celebration, which takes place on West Broadway between Macdonald and Blenheim streets. It’s a veritable feast for those who can’t get enough of flaky spanakopita, succulent souvlaki, spicy moussaka, and other Greek favourites.
Canada Day at Granville Island
What could be better than celebrating the country’s birthday with crepes and maple syrup on Granville Island? If that’s not your thing, you could drop by Lee’s Donuts or the Lobster Man cookout, which takes place from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. This Canada Day party will also include free jazz concerts and a lively festival bazaar, featuring international culinary treats, music, and art.
(July 7 to 16)
One of Canada’s most celebrated chefs, Vikram Vij, has challenged other top chefs to tantalize the taste buds of everyone at the festival’s opening gala at the Roundhouse Community Centre. The theme is “border crossings” at this erudite multidisciplinary festival of literature, arts, film, and politics.
One of the headliners is international activist and writer Vandana Shiva, who is leading a global campaign to preserve seeds and oppose the imposition of genetically modified foods. Filmmakers Deepa Mehta and Leslee Udwin, actor Veena Sood, artist Bharti Kher, and writers Karim Alrawi, Monia Mazigh, and Ameen Merchant are also featured at various events.
And on July 9, the Orpheum will come alive to the sounds of Rajasthan Josh, a Sufi- and Hindu-influenced band that was featured in Paul Thomas Anderson’s documentary film Junun.
(July 9 and 10)
Latin American Week kicks off in early July, culminating in a glorious free weekend fiesta at Concord Pacific Place (88 Pacific Boulevard). Re-creating the traditional Latin American plaza, Carnaval del Sol brings together 16 Canadian and Latin chefs to share cooking secrets and recipes. Dine on enchiladas, salmorejo, brigadeiro, fajitas, and other Latin American treats in the midst of mariachi music, salsa and Zumba dancing, and art classes. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Latin American party without some fútbol (or futebol if you’re from Brazil), which will be played on the pavement.
The Roundhouse Community Centre will hold a daylong rendezvous for lovers of French food, culture, and the republic. There will also be a giant picnic, live music, a waiters’ race, and even a dog contest for those in the mood to Frenchify their pooch. For those interested in more intellectual fare, there will also be a discussion about last year's COP21 climate summit in Paris. French National Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14, 1789. Not long afterward, feudalism was abolished.
(July 23 and 24)
The Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Society of B.C. celebrates Caribbean culture with calypso and soca, a children’s carnival, a parade, and traditional dishes such as callaloo, geera, and roti stuffed with potato, chick peas, pumpkin, chicken, and other foods. This festival, which takes place in the City of North Vancouver, also gives you a chance to try out some Trini slang, like “We bussin’ a lime” (“We’re going to chill”) or “Family, watch me for a minute, nah” (“Can I talk to you?”). The fun begins in the Central Lonsdale area before winding up in the park beside Lonsdale Quay.
(July 30 and 31)
This is the granddaddy of Vancouver's multicultural festivals—this year will mark the 40th year that the city has hosted its annual celebration of Japanese arts and culture. And for every year but one, the party has taken place in Oppenheimer Park in the 400 block of Powell Street, which was the centre of the Japanese community prior to internment during the Second World War. The Powell Street Festival has grown to encompass more locations—this year, it's also at the Firehall Arts Centre, the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, and the Vancouver Buddhist Temple—but the park is where you'll find that delicious Japanese food. Make no mistake, there's no shortage of artistic events, martial arts, and crafts, but we have to admit, it's hard to resist those tasty delicacies along Dunlevy and Jackson avenues.
The annual Korean celebration returns to Swangard Stadium with a food pavilion, so get ready to dine on kimchi, bibimbap, and other favourites from the Land of the Morning Calm. That’s in addition to a K-pop concert, art exhibitions, and some incredible tae kwon do demos.
(September 3 to 5)
Johnny and Cindy Jun’s sensational tornado potatoes (see photo) are just one of the tasty treats at this year’s festival. Granville Street in the downtown core will come alive with a grand tea reception, as well as a banquet featuring such Taiwanese dishes as braised pork rice, gua bao, and the island nation’s best-known food export: beef-noodle soup.
Organizers will hold “friendship picnics” to bring new Canadians together with others over Taiwanese food and drinks. There’s also an International Pan-Asian Culinary Invitational competition on the plaza outside the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, with chefs from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Canada squaring off in an iron-chef format.
If all this food leaves you with indigestion, venture over to the free traditional Chinese medicine clinic and natural-health seminars offered by the Tzu Chi Foundation Canada.
The City of Richmond’s annual multicultural fest takes place in Minoru Park with more than 40 food trucks and a culinary stage featuring cuisine from around the globe. There’s also a digital carnival, poetry, dance performances, and live music. It’s all designed to heighten people’s appreciation for different cultures in one of the region’s more diverse cities, where residents communicate in 77 nonofficial languages.