Best of Vancouver: Arts and Books

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      Best Indigenous dance choreographer

      Many regular readers of the Straight are familiar with Dancers of Damelahamid, an Indigenous troupe led by executive and artistic director and choreographer Margaret Grenier.

      The Gitksan and Cree artist’s knack for juxtaposing traditional Indigenous dance into a compelling story illuminated with contemporary multimedia projections and soundscapes reached its zenith in the 2019 production of Mînowin.

      This month, Grenier’s lifetime of work received national recognition when she received the 2020 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. Awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts, it recognizes the highest level of achievement in professional artistry in music, theatre, or dance.

      It also reflects the importance of Indigenous dance from the Northwest Coast—and the role that Indigenous artists are having on helping to decolonize minds across the country.

      Best artistic tenacity shown during a pandemic

      If this were a category in the annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, the hands-down winner would be Donna Spencer, artistic producer of the Firehall Arts Centre. She was the first to stage live dance performances last summer to small audiences during the Dancing on the Edge Festival.

      The Firehall also hosted the live Pride Performance Empowers! series in the summer and then produced some plays this fall, including the world premiere of The Amaryllis, directed by Mindy Parfitt.

      It took a ton of work to ensure safety protocols were in place, plus a whole lot of guts on Spencer’s part to carry through. And it has bolstered the courage of others to host live performances since she blazed this trail in Vancouver.

      Best new nod to Saltwater City’s Cantonese history

      The City of Vancouver announced on August 27 that a new public artwork, Saltwater City Vancouver/鹹水埠温哥华, was erected in Chinatown to honour Cantonese migrants. The neon sign, at 475 Main Street (between Hastings and Pender streets), was made by local artist Paul Wong and it illuminates the Chinese characters 鹹水埠温哥华.

      In Cantonese, it reads phonetically as “haam sui fow Wun goh wah”; “haam sui fow” translates to “saltwater city”, which is what the Chinese community called the city, and “Wun goh wah” is the phonetic translation of “Vancouver”.

      The site is historically significant as it is the former location of Vancouver’s city hall from 1889 to 1929. Wong developed this piece during his year-long residency “身在唐人街/Occupying Chinatown” at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in 2018 and 2019, a project commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program in partnership with the garden.

      His residency coincided with the City of Vancouver’s formal apology in April 2018 for historical discrimination against Chinese residents.

      Saltwater City Vancouver/鹹水埠温哥华 by Paul Wong

      Best boost to Punjabi Canadian history

      The B.C. government announced on September 3 that it would provide the Abbotsford Community Foundation with $1.14 million to create Haq and History: A Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project, with the University of the Fraser Valley’s South Asian Studies Institute (SASI) and other partners.

      This project will help to enhance and correct public educational and historical records while highlighting contributions to British Columbia from Punjabi community members despite barriers such as discrimination and injustice.

      The project will include the digitization of South Asian–Canadian collections (including artifacts, photos, oral histories, and more) for an online digital archive; a travelling exhibition about South Asian–Canadian history; educational resources for B.C. schools; a public history book; and more.

      “A primary goal of the project is to improve the historical record of the significant contributions of Punjabi Canadians, with the goal to reduce racism while underscoring the value of B.C.’s diverse society,” SASI director Satwinder Kaur Bains stated in a news release.

      Best Vancouver version of Hercule Poirot

      Dr. Annick Boudreau

      Vancouver author, playwright, activist, and comedian Charles Demers is best known across Canada for his frequent appearances on CBC Radio One’s The Debaters. But few of those listeners are aware that the witty and very progressive Demers was dogged for years by obsessive-compulsive disorder.

      And that’s the inspiration for his new novel, Primary Obsessions, featuring a crime-solving West Van psychiatrist named Dr. Annick Boudreau, an expert in cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s replete with local references—everything from SkyTrain to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre pops up in the book.

      To hell with colonial-era murder mysteries that so often miss the mark on probing the inner workings of the brain and refuse to shed light on the diversity of humanity.

      Bring on Dr. Boudreau—and Demers’s crackerjack dialogue—in our vibrant and multicultural 21st-century metropolis.

      Best local pandemic travel book

      Road Trips: Journeys in the Unspoiled Word

      North Vancouver writer Trevor Carolan’s erudite, rollicking, and compulsively readable new book offers an ideal antidote for anyone wallowing in the misery of the daily news run. It’s a tour of great escapes from as close to home as the Coast Mountains to the hillsides of Lisbon.

      Throw in tales of Carolan’s journeys to Jamaica, Nepal, Laos, and Ireland, and it adds up to a fabulous travel book. Of course, discretionary trips out of the country by plane nowadays are a no-no. But there’s nothing to stop you from taking in the world through Carolan’s eyes.

      And the Oscar for best art direction goes to…

      Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History

      Eve Lazarus used to be a Vancouver Sun reporter before finding her muse as one of the city’s most engaging historians. And she brings her finely honed nose for news to her gorgeous new book, Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History.

      She has separated the text into six geographic areas—West End, West of Main Street, etcetera—each rich with tales on a wide range of topics, including a polka-dotted bungalow on the East Side, a Canada Post tunnel, and ghost murals in Chinatown. But what really makes Vancouver Exposed such a treasure is the book’s art direction.

      It’s a visual feast and an ideal holiday gift for anyone eager to learn more about the city’s past.