If you could create a “dream festival” for the city of Vancouver, what would you do?
Would you bring together some of the city's institutions such as the
Vancouver Maritime Museum, it's most famous sites and locations such as
Granville Island and Kitsilano Beach, set up some concerts at Plaza of
Nations, beat in some dragon boat and kayak races, stir in some UBC
Opera with Vancouver Opera musicians for the H.M.S. Pinafore, sprinkle
with Vancouver historical figures and wrap it up with a multicultural
There is great potential and learning pains for this new “signature
festival” for the City of Vancouver. Sea Vancouver is a large
festival with a diverse and wonderful
scope. I am simply amazed at what is happening. And I have
only been on the Maritime Point site for Thursday and Friday, carving
away at my little dragon boat head, as part of Eric Neighbor's Carving
Quintet. We have a tent facing the entrance to False Creek.
Eric Neighbor is carving a sea siren, and a contemporary dragon head
that was fitted to a dragon boat in front of our tent today.
Michael Dangeli is carving a First Nations canoe prow piece based on a
bear with a special head. Mari is carving a Chinese phoenix, also
well known in Japanese mythology.
If the question is: What is Vancouver? Then our little carving tent of
4 booths certainly represents Vancouver's cultural diversity, and it's
relationship with the sea, and the earth.
Bob “Rabbie” Brinson and myself (Todd Wong) are carving contemporary
dragon boat head and tail, based on our Scottish-Chinese-Canadian logo
for our Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. I explain that we
are carving a blending of the Loch Ness Monster and a Chinese Dragon,
as we access the cultures of BC's “two solitudes” – the Scots and the
Chinese. Two cultures that both immigrated to BC and helped
settle it in their own ways – seemingly at odds with each other, but
intertwined throughout the building of the railway, the Janet Smith
murder, and so many other things throughout BC history. And now
today inter-married into so many families.
We are on site from 11am to 7pm from July 7th Thursday to July 10th,
Sunday. Maritime Point is one of the locations where people line
up to take a ferry to go visit “Tall Ship Island” where in the middle
of English Bay are moored barges with historic sailing vessels tied
up. I saw the Sailing Parade take place on Thursday when the
boats lined up in Burrard Inlet, came under the Lion's Gate Bridge and
sailed out around Stanley Park. Very cool.
At Maritime Point. We are the visual arts display. There
are many people coming by watching what we are doing, asking questions
about dragon boats, First Nations traditions, wood carving, etc.
Inevitably we get into conversations about what defines cultures.
Today, amongst ourselves, we talked about the use and definitions of
First Nations words, after Bob and myself were listening to CBC Radio
One. While we thought that it was very positive, Mike Dangeli and
his fiance, both First Nations, argued the opposite. Out of
respect, I will not use the word in question – but there are many words
from First Nations culture that have been integrated and
misappropriated into Canadian English language.
Eric and Bob were interviewed this morning by both Global TV and CBC
Radio. They had to be on site by 6am – people came by the tent
and said they heard them on radio, and it was a good interview.
Hopefully more people will be interested in what we are doing as
carvers of wood, and expressing culture through artistic expression.
Walking around the Maritime Point site, there are the usual food
stands… including Vera's Burgers, Hawaiian Shave-Ice, Donairs and
kebobs, Fries and Mini-Doughnuts. Here are the usual commercial
displays for cars, Intuition lady razors, Chocolate bars, and the
Starbucks frappucinos. The most interesting displays are: the
Global TV's “win up to $1000” booth, where people grab monopoly money
blown around in an enclosed booth; the RenFest booth – promoting
pirates of the Renaissance period where you can have your picture taken
in a stock hold thingy… pirates are roaming the site with foam
swords, doing piratey things. I confronted one “Asian” pirate who
was talking in a “fake” Scottish-Pirate accent. I accused him of
Brigadoonery, and identified myself as Grand Chieftain of Clan Gung
Haggis Fat Choy. He asked me where was my kilt…. oops – forgot
The best display are The Real Royal Engineers, people dressed up as
19th Century settlers and royal engineers, from the time of 1860, when
BC was first being settled by Caucasians. They demonstrate
how people lived, cooked, hunted, etc. They are using our cedar
wood chips to fire their wood ovens. They sleep in tents for the
entire 3 nights – through last night's rain. They know the
history of the time, and were very knowledgable answering my questions
when I asked why they had Chinese china plates and boxes with Chinese
lettering. The sailors said they had just travelled from Canton
city in Southern China. They were very interested in my story
about how my father's father, Wong Wah, came to Canada in 1888 to run a
Chinese general store, and my grandmother's grandfather Rev. Chan Yu
Tan arrived in 1896 to help the Chinese Methodist Church.
Walking around Maritime Point to Kitsilano Beach we discovered the
stage for HMS Pinafore, put on by UBC Opera. Since most of the
musicians were from Vancouver Opera, we talked to our friend Mark
Ferris, VO concertmaster. Mark immediately thanked us for
inviting him and his partner to come up to paddle dragon boat races in
Vernon in two weeks. It was a nice little production – very
enjoyable listening to Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera underneath
trees with a wonderful sunset on English Bay in the background.
Because of the long day, we left at intermission, so I could get home
and start doing preparation for our dragon boat races at Creekside Park
/ Science World in the morning. Our first race in the Sea
Vancouver dragon boat regatta is a 10:30am, but we will be meeting as a
team at 9am. Races include a 1000m, 250m and a 500m race.
Sunday we do an obstacle dragon boat race.
As a brand new event, there is much potential, and many challenges to
make it better. Some things work, and some things don't work –
such as booth and site locations, mixing and matching performers and
venues. For instance, the beer garden at Maritime Point is a
beautiful location with a wonderful view of the tall ships, English Bay
and the entrance to False Creek – but it's practically empty! Big
name performers with a proper stage would be a wonderful draw.
But this is such a cool festival with a very “Vancouver vibe”! There are theatrical troupes
walking around pretending they are fisherpersons, synchronized
swimmers, and even Vancouver historical figures such as lifeguard Joe
Fortes and Vancouver socialite Janet McGillicuddy. Very
Vancouver! Congratulations – you have a new signature festival!
Here's an interesting review of SeaVancouver Festival by Steve Burgess for The Tyee::