Our Dad thought this would just be a story to pass on – but the following spring – who showed up on the chimney (not Santa) but Wilbur and this year he even brought a mate to share in the feast – how special now there was two.
Every Christmas tree in the Dundarave Festival's has a story to tell. The Edmonson's Family Tree tells the true story of an uncommon friendship.
By Debby Fjoftoft
The first part of our story is “Grannie’s Bear”. Teddy Bears held significant meaning for our Mom Betty. In 1987 Betty was hospitalized for 50 days and made a “miraculous” recovery. While in the hospital, we hung a poster full of bears. All of her surgeons, doctors and nurses came to visit her, with tears of joy and amazement, of her recovery. They all signed the poster when they visited her hospital room and thus the love of bears began. When our Mom left the hospital – our Dad gave her a gold teddy bear pendant that she wore from that day on – it symbolized strength, life and love. The shape of the ornament is a replica of her special pendant.
The second part of our story is about “Wilbur” the Great Blue Heron.
Our Dad Al loved animals. He and his Wife Betty fed numerous birds, ducks and squirrels in and around the pond at their home in North Vancouver. They named each of the “regulars” – especially Sam the Squirrel - who used to come into their house if the door was left open just looking for the food. One day a Great Blue Heron arrived in the pond and Al was intrigued. So he went out to the pet store and started to purchase goldfish to put in the pond. Well, it worked and the heron came back every day to feed. And so it became a regular trip to Dundarave for the Seawall walk in the morning and onward to the pet store to buy goldfish to bring home for the heron. The goldfish became expensive and the pet shop owner began to become curious as to what Al was doing with all these goldfish daily. Also I guess Al was feeling a bit guilty – being an animal lover and sacrificing all the goldfish and the heron had quite an appetite. So Al knew that he had to change his plan because now the heron came everyday and depended on our Dad for food. And of course, like all the others, Al knew that he needed a name – so “Wilbur” he became.
Al began to purchase frozen bait herring for Wilbur to eat but he did not seem to like it at first “Well Betty - maybe it doesn’t seem real being frozen - we need to do something” said Al. So he started thawing it in the microwave and Wilbur seemed to like this. So continued the relationship between Al and Wilbur and every morning upon Al rising from bed he would lean out the window and call “Wilbur – Wilbur – Wilbur” and here would come this large bird flying over and would land on the carport in front of our parents’ condo. Everyone was amazed at the attraction between the man and the bird – even our Mom whose microwave now smelled constantly of fish! The first year was fun and when the bad weather came – Wilbur left for warmer temperatures. Our Dad thought this would just be a story to pass on – but the following spring – who showed up on the chimney (not Santa) but Wilbur and this year he even brought a mate to share in the feast – how special now there was two. The relationship with Wilbur strengthened as Al’s health deteriorated. They met ritually for more than 5 years – amazing all around them.
Al became quite ill and ended up in hospital and daily our Mom Betty would attempt to continue the relationship with the bird. Wilbur would come every day but would not respond to Betty and did not touch the herring she so lovingly thawed for him. Soon Al returned and all went back to normal with Wilbur and the unlikely friendship continued. Al became weaker and could not get down the stairs as frequently as he wanted and Wilbur stopped coming to visit. We were all saddened by this – especially Al. But the Great Blue Heron became a symbol in our lives. Well, Wilbur did return, the day our Dad read his Will and Testament to us, Dad’s heron made a cursory “fly-by” the condo but did not stop for long. He just came to say goodbye and to show respect for the man that looked after him for many years.
Soon Al passed away and his Wife Betty continued to go to Dundarave for daily walks and every time she saw a “Wilbur” at the beach she would feel the presence of her husband and smile for the story she had inside. We had a bench installed under their favourite tree at Dundarave.
15 years later my mom Betty passed as well and the bench was renewed and her name was added to the plaque. My parents love of family and friends was so strong and always included so many individuals who maybe did not have a place to go on Christmas (much like the animals for so many years) my parents cared for everyone. The plaque reads “This a bench for friends to rest cause it’s the place we love best – Al & Betty Edmondson & Family”.
So in their honour – we have donated to the Dundarave Festival and its charity “Lookout Emergency Aid Society”. Mary one of the festival coordinators was so inspired by our story that she assigned us the tree closest to our parent’s bench so that we can celebrate the two together. My sister and I lovingly designed, cut and painted each ornament on the tree. Please come down and see the trees they are a beautiful sight to behold and so many have their own special story to tell.
Squamish Elder Wendy Charbonneau leads a paddle song procession to bless the Dundarave Festival.
By Gwendoline Allison
It was a glorious day on Saturday, and what better way to enjoy the bright sun than to head to the beach at Dundarave for the second day of free concerts, the Dundarave Nativity and Paddle Song, presented as part of the Dundarave Festival of Lights.
If there was one phrase to describe the day it was “a community in action”:
1. performers, artists, volunteers and service providers, all people from our community, joining together and sharing their skills, talents and histories for the enjoyment of others;
2. performers offering support, encouragement and gratitude to one another; and
3. a whole community raising money to end homelessness in our community.
I arrived as the preparations were beginning. Doug from Wild Coast Productions was there, setting up our longhouse and the sound system for our performers. Tim Lack built a lattice shelter in the gazebo for the Dundarave Nativity, to house that astonishing piece of art while we enjoy its presence on our beach.
Michael, Mary, Sofia, Brad, Tim, Aaron, Bill and Jean, and the Sheppards all arrived to set up the Nativity. The Dundarave Nativity is an extraordinary West Vancouver tradition. Several years ago, master carver Bill Seminoff took on the project of restoring the Nativity. Bill took the original pieces (Mary and the baby Jesus, Joseph, an angel, a shepherd, a king and a sheep), stripped off the lead paint which covered them and refinished them with a paint that will allow our children to touch the pieces.
Nick Sheppard, left, and Tim Lack move the Dundarave Nativity's third king, Caspar, into place.
TimberWest Forest Products, through the generous intervention of Tony Petrina and Paul McElligott, donated two raw logs to Bill to carve new pieces. With Nick Sheppard, they hauled the two tons of soaking wet cedar up from the beach and stored them in Nick’s workshop at Cedar Coast Fence Ltd. As the logs dried out, Bill set about carving three new pieces, a donkey and two kings; and the new pieces are magnificent.
We had the great privilege at the Festival’s second Saturday of free concerts on Dundarave Beach of unveiling the last of the new pieces: a king, Caspar, who has taken his place in the Nativity. Please take the time to come down to the beach and enjoy Bill’s creations.
The Dundarave Nativity and Paddle Song Saturday kicked off with Elder Wendy Charbonneau of the Squamish Nation. Elder Wendy is a direct descendant of Chief George Capilano, who welcomed Captain Vancouver and Captain Cook to our shores. As has become the festival tradition, Elder Wendy welcomed the festival and gave it her blessing. On behalf of the festival, she offered her profound gratitude to Bill Seminoff for his work, and she spoke of her childhood memories of her granny and great granny seeking out nativities to visit with her.
Elder Wendy bade us all “eyes”, which means “peace” in Squamish. She sang three songs, including her world-famous Paddle song, sung with Sister Denise, Elder Wendy’s companion in the canoe. Elder Wendy ended by leading a procession from the gazebo through our forest of trees and into the longhouse where our first band, the West Vancouver Adult Pops Band, was in place and ready to start.
Master Carver Bill Seminoff with Elder Wendy Charbonneau, receiving the Dundarave Nativity on behalf of the community.
The West Vancouver Adult Pops Band was founded in 1931. Its members were parents of children who played in the West Vancouver Youth Band. The parents decided that they wanted to play music too, so formed their own band. Under their conductor, Tak Maeda, they meet once a week at the West Vancouver Community Centre to play music and enjoy other’s company. The band played a set of well-known Christmas tunes to get us in the mood.
As the band played, other performers came in to watch and support their fellow performers. That continued throughout the day. Michael and Mary Markwick were everywhere, ensuring that the day went smoothly. Sofia and Brad Kennedy worked non-stop, decorating trees and ensuring the lights would come on again, with their trusty volunteer Tyron of the Maker's Body Boot Camp. Staff from Whole Foods served hot soup (Broccoli Cheddar this week – can’t wait to see what’s on offer next week) and hot cider. Staff from the Lookout Shelter lead by the shelter's manager Linda Fox came to support the festival and share their experiences and insight into the problem of homelessness in our community. We are all grateful for the commitment of all our volunteers.
The Lawn Dogs, Paul Grant (guitar), Greg Henry (double bass), Bob Doucet (mandolin), and Jeff Scouten (banjo).
Our next performers were the Lawn Dogs, a bluegrass band from Bowen Island. The Lawn Dogs comprise four friends who gather in their local pub and play music. From their impromptu jam sessions, the Lawn Dogs emerged. They are a fixture on the local music scene and can often be found in the Red Lion on a Tuesday night. For me, bluegrass is an art form that bears witness to lives lived in harsh conditions. It was entirely appropriate therefore to hear such beautiful harmonies while contemplating the harshness of homelessness. It also served as a call to action.
The Lawn Dogs were cheered enthusiastically by our next performers, Dogwood and Dahlia, returning to the Dundarave Festival this year. Dogwood and Dahlia are an indie folk band of three young performers, who play beautiful music (harmonised vocals, guitar, banjo and double bass). They hail from North Vancouver and Langley, and are now based in White Rock. I expect we will hear great things from them in the future. I know I will be hearing a lot from them since my twelve year old daughter bought their CD.
Dogwood and Dahlia sang a set of their own material, and then were joined by local music legend David Newberry. David joined them in playing their music, then Dogwood and Dahlia returned the compliment by joining David in playing some of his songs: a collaboration borne from mutual respect. The four performers sang a gorgeous, soft version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. I hope to see that recorded in the future.
David, of course, does double duty at the festival. In addition to being a star attraction as an award-winning performer, David also works at the Lookout Shelter as a community liaison.
Dogwood & Dahlia, Joshua Nadeau (double bass), Sydney Thorne (banjo), Neil Smith (guitar), with David Newberry (centre right, guitar).
Dogwood and Dahlia ceded the longhouse to one of the festival’s traditional draws: the Bowen Island Black Sheep Morris Dancers. The Black Sheep are committed performers and supporters of the festival. They have been with us for years, and often perform on multiple days. Once again, the Black Sheep brought their raucous enthusiasm and talent, and showed us just what the Old English got up to during the long, cold, dark winters. They will join us again on December 22.
Bowen Island Black Sheep
The concert closed out with Wednesday at Ernie’s, a large band of local performers. Like our opening performers the West Vancouver Adult Pops Band, Wednesday at Ernie’s is a collection of parents of past and present West Vancouver Youth Band members. The parents rightfully thought their children should not get all the fun, so they formed their own band. About 28 of them had us all dancing at the beach as the Christmas tree lights came on at dusk.
All in all, our day was one of our community gathering to appreciate our talents and to support one another. Our day was made better by our funding from Heritage Canada. That funding is vital to our ability to provide a shelter for our performers and audiences in the Dundarave Festival Longhouse and Dundarave Nativity Pavillion, our amazing sound system and a small honorarium for our performers.
Most importantly, throughout the day, we continued to raise funds for the Lookout Shelter. The shelter staff were busy taking donations from performers and spectators, and as the festival wound up for the day, we were inundated by people asking how they can donate. The answer is online, at this website, and on the next two Saturdays at the festival itself.
I know what I will be doing next Saturday. I invite you to join me at the beach at Dundarave for another day of free concerts.
Wednesday at Ernie's
Without a Festival like this, we couldn't have a 'society'.
By Michael Markwick
It was a bold goal, to commit the West Vancouver Centennial season of the Dundarave Festival of Lights to "end homelessness joyfully."
I first noticed him as we set about the final preparations for the kick off of the Dundarave Christmas Fair, a monumental task made effortless by the Festival's stalwart friends at Wildcoast Productions. He was soaked through to the skin and huddled away from the rain under what coverage the concession building at Dundarave Beach allowed. The sight of him stopped me in my tracks.
There were joyful teams of people just down the slope from us decorating a record 100 Christmas trees, everyone of them playing a role in the work of ending homlessness. Families, community groups, a strong contingent from Capilano University's School of Communication, businesses all busily at work despite the rain, some with golf canopies and ample supplies of hot chocolate.
And this man, having slept on the beach the entire night, was a world away.
A seventy-five year old woman had been sleeping through the autumn on Ambelside Beach. Our friends in the West Van Fire Department advise us there are people sleeping in the remote reaches of Lighthouse Park, deep in Cypress Mountain. The Lookout Society's North Shore Shelter reports more and more of our elderly friends and neighbours, the people who built our community, and increasing numbers of young adults, the people who are the future of our community, are turning to the Shelter for help. We do not have accurate data about housing insecurity of families on the North Shore, but there is evidence to suggest women and children are particularly vulnerable in the event of violence and abuse.
If the trees were not being decorated that day, and Dundarave Beach had been left desolate for the rains to claim it, this man might not have survived another night of exposure. But as he doodled on a newspaper and the trees were decorated below him, four staff from the North Shore Shelter arrived to put their best foot forward in the Festival Longhouse. They went up to the concession stand to talk to our friend. He had no idea the Shelter existed. Within half an hour he accepted their offer of a bed in the Shelter and a drive to it.
Later on in the day, and I had not told him about this turn of events, Mayor Mike Smith spoke in the Festival Longhouse. "Homelessness is a problem in our community," he said "and we are committed to working together to end it."
The trees in this season's Dundarave Festival are spectacular in their own right. But what makes this Festival unlike any other is the depth of humanity, the courage and joy they represent. The Christmas trees in this season of the Dundarave Festival, unlike any other in its twenty-one year history, individually and in a centennial forest shine with the glowing heart of West Vancouver at 100.
We'd never pick favourites, but special mention has to be made here of the colossal heart of that colossal community choir, Burstin' With Broadway. Their online cyber tree is shining with over $1400 (and counting) in charitable donations to the North Shore Shelter.Their donations add to the over $125,000 the Dundarave Festival has raised over five seasons for the North Shore Shelter. This funding has allowed the Shelter to double its transition support staff, tackling an area for which there is no funding from the federal or provincial governments. Because of the generosity of communities like BWB, and all of the Festival's tree sponsors, the homeless in our community now receive more intensive, foscussed and successful support than they have ever received before. When you consider the fact that it costs taxpayers between $55,000 and $135,000 a year to keep someone on the street, using the Dundarave Festival's Christmas trees to help people find secure housing and healthy lives is the right, just and beautiful thing to do in so many ways.To borrow the words of one BWB member, we could not have a society without festivals like the Dundarave Festival of Lights. Click the "SHOW YOUR LOVE" button to visit our secure online donation page. Share the love; you will receive immediately a charitable tax receipt by email, your donation will go straight to work in ending homelessness joyfully.
We're in the first hours of autumn, mists hang on the dewy trees in the mountain forests and the ocean breathes out the last heat of the summer into the cool early morning air. In other parts of Canada the weather already has a sharp bite, making the warmth of houses all the more welcome and the lives of people without shelter more despondent, more difficult and imperiled. The turn of the season in this "true north" has always required us to turn to each other; from Aboriginal villages to early homesteads and 21st century metropolises, the primordial message, to borrow from John Donne, is that "No man is an island/Entire of itself
" through the longer, colder deeper nights of winter.This is what makes the example of Winnipeg's Kris Doubledee
so very Canadian. Driving his Route 24 bus through Portage Avenue, Doubledee saw a homeless man walking barefoot through bad weather.In Doubledee's words, "
I couldn't stand seeing someone walking barefoot in this temperature like this."
He pulled the bus to the curb, yelled "Hey, buddy!" and went to talk to him. When Doubledee's intentions started to become unmistakeable, his passengers took out their smart phones and shoot clips that have now gone viral: the bus driver took off his shoes and gave them to the barefoot man.
The hard edge of urban life usually finds us looking the other way, sinking into a numbing hopelessness when we come face to face with the human impact of a society, a politics, a system, an economy that can leave people destitute, exposed to the unforgiving power of a Canadian winter. What makes Doubledee's example compelling is how very natural it was to step out of this homelessness, as he stepped out of his shoes in an open, generous and profoundly personal answer to the need of the other man.Doubledee would likely agree that this kind of counter cultural thing is actually happening all the time all across the country. The turn to colder weather can bring a turn in each of us to tenderness, and it can come out of nowhere.We see this every season in the Dundarave Festival of Lights. An army of firefighters arrives at Dundarave Beach to help "plant" a forest of Christmas trees. Families, schools and universities (actually, Capilano University has the distinction of being the only one so far), community choirs and Dragon Busters, businesses of every stripe
sponsor a tree of their own for $110 and then make a charitable donation to the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's North Shore Shelter of $250 or more. They decorate their trees at Dundarave Beach or in Dundarave Village, and the result is arguably the world's most spectacular forest of Christmas trees. Then they encourage everyone they know to go online to their tree's pledge page, "decorating" it with more donations to the shelter.So far right off the starting blocks, first time entrant Trimetrics Physiotherapy has set the pace with a $1,000 donation to the North Shore Shelter.
Presenting founder Arc'teryx, Clara Hartree, Darwin Construction, the Truffle House, Lunny Atmore Law, Penfold's Roofing, the North Shore Dragon Busters, West Van Optometry, West Van Vacuum Centre, 2M Events, 4Kats Studio along with West Vancouver's Mayor and Council (technically, the first group to sponsor a tree this year) have allowed the Festival to flourish. The race is on, and there's glory enough for all.In this way, over the past four Christmases the Dundarave Festival has allowed our community to donate over $105,000 to the North Shore Shelter. This has allowed the shelter to double its transitional support staff. The result has been miraculous. Where you might have seen one person a year make the transition from homelessness to independent life,
this year eight people have found the encouragement, healing and loving support to create new lives for themselves.
This season, we're celebrating West Vancouver's Centennial Christmas by raising up a forest of one hundred trees at Dundarave Beach. Every one of these trees will be a beacon against the longest nights of the year, a sign of a hope shining all the brighter because of the darkness as each tree sponsor works a miracle every bit as Canadian as Kris Doubledee's. One Christmas tree at a time, we knit closer the bonds that have allowed us to thrive in this country by making sure no one is left out in the cold.
West Van's firefighters are second to none, the first on the scene when our families, our homes and everything we have are at risk of being swallowed up by the darkest turns of fate. It takes an uncommon person to make a profession out of putting everything he or she is on the line to pull us out of harms way. The fact that people choose this profession is something of a miracle. But it is in the nature of a miracle to pull us up short, to make sure if only for a moment we see the uncommon power of it, to push aside any drift to ingratitude with a sense of wonder.
This is the feeling we had this morning, under a bright early winter sun on Dundarave Beach, when an army of firefighters arrived to help us plant a forest of Christmas trees. In our family, we say eagles are like angels: there are always more around than you can see. Same goes for firefighters. We were told to expect four, but two firetrucks hauled their gleaming red mass to the beach and in a heartbeat we were surrounded by the men and women of the WVFD. Mario Russell, the exclusive provider of trees for the Festival from his -- unrivaled for the excellence of its trees -- Valley View Tree Farm, had just delivered a record number of trees for the Dundarave Festival. In less than half the time it took us in previous seasons, the Firefighters raised them into a forest working side by side with Venturer Scouts, students from St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School, École Pauline Johnson,
and the Knights of Columbus. The work went swiftly because of the loving attention Chris and his crews from Great Canadian Landscaping had brought to the site the morning before, prepping the holes in a biting rain. It went swiftly because of the support the Festival's received from West Van's municipal staff. And it was finished in a twinkling because of our firefighters.These trees, in the words of the Lookout Society's eminent executive director, Karen O'Shannacery,
have a "miraculous effect
" on the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community. The need was unmistakable even this morning, as we arrived to find evidence that someone had passed the sub zero night sleeping under the great Alder tree at Dundarave Beach. We can measure the miracle in the $75,000 the trees have raised through three Christmases for the North Shore Shelter, and the signs that we're on our way to adding to this total. But the more reliable measure of this "miraculousness" is the way the trees make visible something that could pass without notice, the way the pull us up short and call us to a sense of wonder against the numbing ingratitude of ordinary time. They forced into plain sight our friendship, a deeper understanding of the fact that the only way we can be human is to be human together -- with each other and for each other. Putting this forest in place this morning allowed us to see -- against the evils that can happen to us without warning -- that it is a beautiful thing to be human.The 20th Anniversary of the Dundarave Festival of Lights began auspiciously, with a host of firefighters planting a forest of miracles on Dundarave Beach.
Its in our hands now to answer this with generous, open and beautiful humanity.
Colour Guard, Remembrance Day 2011, West Vancouver
The world had never before seen the destruction of human life by human hands on the scale of this war, the world's first global war. Canada's last known World War I veteran, John Babcock
, died in February, 2010 at the age of 109 years, taking with him the last living memory we have of the war that did not end all wars, but forever changed the nature of war. It brought an end to the possibility of containing war to discrete battles fought with brutal but limited weapons, ushering in an era of war on a planetary scale waged with weapons of mass destruction that target even now every human being, every living thing. It made the world incarnadine. Understanding this is essential if we are to come to terms with the significance of what men of Mr. Babcock's era, ally and enemy alike, did on the battlefield of the Ypres Salient to mark the Christmas of 1914.
The fighting had commenced in October of that year. Of the 48,000 soldiers in the German Army Corps, the vast majority were young volunteers between 17 and 19 years old. This was the "child army", the "Kinderkorps". Before the arrival of the 1st Canadian Division in February 1915, to face later that spring Germany's use of deadly chlorine gas, British forces with French reinforcements and the Indian Army prevented the Germans from seizing the town of Ypres. Within the first six weeks of fighting, the allies suffered the loss of 80,000 men. On either side of the flat "no man's land", both forces struggled against heavy winter rains to dig themselves into trenches, holes the inexorable weather reduced to quagmires. Both armies were shouting distance from each other, and when they sang their music would cross no man's land sometimes to be answered by applause. Against this, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the Second British Corps, issued a strict prohibition against any form of fraternization with the enemy because of "the absolute necessity of encouraging the offensive spirit of the troops
Recognizing the scale of the killing, on December 7th 1914 Pope Benedict XV proposed a global armistice to allow the celebration of Christmas. The German command agreed, but the leadership of the Allies refused. The families of soldiers on both sides sent their loved ones Christmas presents, small comforts against the killing and the cold and their homelessness in the trenches. On Christmas Eve, the Allied soldiers watched what at first might have been an especially cruel feint as the German forces, the Kindercorps, raised hundreds up of candle lit Christmas trees to the parapets of their trenches. And then they began to sing, "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft; einsam wacht [...]". The British command ordered their soldiers not to fire, but to remain vigilant. And then the British soldiers, against orders, answered with carols of their own. Both sides emerged from their trenches to shake hands, trade beer and gifts, and breathe in peace the air of this holy night.To the list of momentous things not to be forgotten this Remembrance Day,
let us not forget this Christmas miracle of 1914 when the light of Christmas trees answered the challenge of a pope: to bring a generation of men at war to taste the peace of Christmas. This was a night made holy and all the sweeter because in that wilderness of the Ypres Salient they discovered the wildest thing of all: the spirit of Christmas that cannot be contained by orders, that will in a heartbeat reveal an enemy to be a friend, and restore against the barbarous logic of war the beauty of being human.For these soldiers, then, claim now a Christmas tree of your own in the Dundarave Festival of Lights. Hold them close to you when you walk the forest of Christmas trees on Dundarave Beach this Christmas Eve.
War is not over; hunger, oppression and homelessness remain. It is in our hands, moved by a courage bigger than any one of us, by a spirit as ancient as it is young, to find ways to live for each other, to call each other to a deep, brave and powerful understanding of what it means to be human.
The jack o'lanterns have had their moment to shine, but in the cool light of November 1st Hallowe'en is so yesterday. We're in a fast sprint now, faster than a sleigh drawn by "eight tiny reindeer", to Christmas as you've never seen it before.
In twenty-five days, on Saturday November 26th, the Dundarave Festival of Lights rolls out its 20th season. It will connect us with the eternally young face of Christmas. From ancient traditions to modern twists, bold bonfires on the beach to the intimacy of a ballad in the Festival Longhouse, all of the joy, peace and promise of the season will find us, shake us out, deepen our connections to each other and to our communities. We'll rock this Christmas by allowing the season to rock us. And we will do it together, by making sure no one is left out in the cold.Click the "Sign Me UP" button now to claim a Festival tree of your own. Use it to send your best wishes for the season, by letting your love shine out, in the Festival's forest of Christmas trees on Dundarave Beach. Your tree will reach over 65,000 people who make pilgrimages to this forest throughout the holidays. Your tree will be a beacon of hope for the hundreds of people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness in our community, by raising charitable donations to support the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's labour of love on the North Shore.And join us on Saturday November 26th for the Dundarave Christmas Fair, the launch of an unforgettably beautiful Christmas 2011, the season of love that is seeking us out even now, as the days grow shorter and the winds turn cold.
Photo credit David McNeary, Creative Commons.
This week the rains of winter found us, a foretaste of a season that forecasters believe will be one of the bitterest winters we've seen in some time. The rain is falling in liquid shards; two more days of this and we'll see an early cold weather alert, which means people who are toughing it out right now in our parks and beaches, on our streets and under doorways will have somewhat greater access to shelter.The rain drives home the reality of the BC Auditor General's observation that, in 2007, the cost of providing police, ambulance, emergency hospitalization and court-related resources to contend with the human impact of homelessness cost BC taxpayers $55,000 per homeless person per year. The Auditor General compares this to the $37,000 it would cost to provide the same person with stable and supportive housing, as part of a considerable volume of evidence to support his conclusion that "
the government does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing homelessness."Much has changed since since the Auditor General's 2009 report Homelessness: Clear Focus Needed.
Today, there are 1,215 seniors at immediate risk of homelessness on the North Shore. The Lookout Society's eminent executive director, Karen O'Shannecery, advises us last year saw a 5% increase in the number of seniors turning to homelessness shelters and she projects this will grow to 10% within a year. This trend is likely to increase as the percentage of seniors in our community rises. At the same time, there's been a 38% increase in the numbers of youth 25 and under who have become homeless in our community since 2008.Faced with this reality, there are a number of practical and immediate steps all of us can take to end homelessness in our community. In fact, we believe this can be done beautifully. Here are two things we can do right away: First,
let Christmas start today for everyone on the North Shore who's at risk of homelessness. Sponsor a Festival tree
for your family, your business, community or place of worship and let it be a meaningful beacon of hope: put your tree to work now in raising the charitable donations essential for the ongoing work of the North Shore Shelter.
Second, use this blog, the four Saturdays of the Festival's fabulous and free concerts and any other moment you can find for open and frank conversations about the reality of homelessness and housing insecurity in our community. These conversations could be challenging.The reason we have a shelter for homeless adults on the North Shore stems from a particularly painful conversation.
She was a lady in every respect, living in a home of her own in the British Properties and well into her eighties when her neighbours found her. Her husband had died some years before, and she found his Canada Pension was not sufficient to pay her property taxes and support her. So she used that money to pay the tax, with a small amount left over to keep up appearances by paying a gardener to come in once a month and mow the lawn. Inside her home, she shut down all of the rooms and lived only in the nanny's quarters to save on utility costs. She did not fill her prescriptions. She ate cat food. Her neighbours looked in on her when they saw the junk mail piling up at her letterbox, found her in a coma and saw her admitted to Lionsgate Hospital. She had no family in Canada, and so the hospital contacted the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's offices in the Downtown Eastside, because at the time there were no shelters on the North Shore. It was the experience of an elderly West Vancouver lady with the brutality of housing insecurity and, eventually, homelessness, that set in train the creation of our own North Shore Shelter.Honour her by allowing your own Festival tree to shine in our forest of Christmas trees on Dundarave Beach. Answer her loneliness by helping us to create frank and loving conversations about how to make sure the people who built out community, and the people who are the future of our community, can always make their home among us.
The universe has its own rhythm and reason, so it was entirely fitting that we received word this week -- as Canada turns its heart to Thanksgiving -- that the Department of Canadian Heritage has once again awarded significant funding to the Dundarave Festival of Lights. This means that we can keep the Festival's 20th Anniversary this Christmas by providing urgently needed financial support to our performing artists, allowing kids their first opportunity to sing in public and bringing the magnificence of the season as-you've-never-seen-it-before to the heart of Dundarave Beach and Dundarave Village. And it means all of us, performers and audience alike, will have warmth and shelter against the bracing weather of a North Pacific winter.
This moment of thankfulness, running the three days of the long weekend, drives home the fact that to be human is to live in relationships, with others and for others. None of us would be who we are today were it not for the people who in loving us and sustaining us make us the persons we are. There are so many inducements to loneliness in our culture, especially if you're insecure in your housing or reduced to homelessness, and it often takes a conscious effort to turn our minds to the fact that every beat of our hearts is due to the hearts that made us. The blood in our veins carries the blood of our ancestors, and our sense of identity is woven through with the identities of the people who have taught us, befriended us, and loved us through our lives.
So here's a way to bring this fact to light, a new Thanksgiving tradition. More and more families and community organizations (like the North Shore Dragon Busters) are using the Dundarave Festival of Lights as a beautiful and public moment to honour the people they love. Sign up for your own Festival Tree this season and let your tree shine for everyone who has loved you into being. Let your Festival Tree be a beacon of thankfulness for them, a sign of hope and encouragement for everyone who sees it. Then bring them with you to Dundarave Beach on November 26th to for the world's most spectacular tree decorating party, to celebrate together the ties that keep us human, the love and friendship that make us the people we are.
Karen speaks to a packed Festival Longhouse
Karen O'Shannacery has been named to the Order of British Columbia, the highest civilian honour of our province. And we are very proud to say that Karen, the force of nature behind the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, is a friend of the Dundarave Festival of Lights. There are few British Columbians whose life work speaks so powerfully to the community we ought to be—a community that leaves no one behind, that celebrates the beauty of every human person, and refuses to treat anyone as disposable or unworthy of love.
It was a powerful moment in the Festival Longhouse last season when Karen took the mike and, as only she can do it—with warmth, courage, and inspiring determination, challenged us to see the day when every bed in a homeless shelter would lead to a permanent bed. The answer to homelessness, on this reasoning, is a home.
This is a happy moment for all of us to take stock of the future of our communities. The pressures of life can be so great that it takes a conscious, determined effort to think about the world as it ought to be, to ask tough questions about the ways people are pushed to the margins of our society, and then make the leap of faith necessary to make change happen. What marks Karen as a remarkable British Columbian is the courage, vision and joy she brings to this work of conscience, justice and mercy through the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. There are, to put it bluntly, hundreds of people this year on the North Shore and thousands across Metro Vancouver who would be homeless were it not for the tireless work of the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, the agency Karen helped to found. So here's to Karen O'Shannacery and the work we hold in common of making sure no one is left out in the cold.
Karen O’Shannacery has worked for more than four decades seeking solutions and providing comfort to the homeless and disenfranchised of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Ms. O’Shannacery’s compassion for those less fortunate has led to the establishment of quality resources and housing. She has a thorough understanding of the issues, is a tireless advocate for homeless people, a respected, well-spoken leader and a team player who works across boundaries to achieve change. Among her many successes, Ms. O’Shannacery’s has created 17 housing projects, including three multi-use buildings, renovation of two single-room occupancy buildings and the opening of Antoinette Lodge, subsidized housing in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. She co-founded a provincial Shelter Network and was instrumental in the purchase and renovation of New Westminster’s former College Place night club, which now serves as a homeless shelter and transitional housing.