It's one thing to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, quite another to have hearts as beautiful as the place we call home.
You could see the radiant heart of our community on Saturday at the Dundarave Christmas Fair. In the middle of a rain storm (that's what the season looks like in our corner of the North Pacific), hundreds of people were jammed into the Festival Longhouse by the time Mayor Mike Smith took the stage. The Mayor called attention to the fact of homelessness in our community, and how it is entirely within our capabilities to make sure no one is left out in the cold.
The proof of his claim was lined up, over a hundred voices strong, behind him. By themselves, the North Shore's Burstin with Broadway choir has raised over $2,100 for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's North Shore Shelter. Each tree in the Dundarave Festival has its own pledge page, a "cyber tree". Burstin With Broadway has shown its vibrancy and life as a community by lighting up its "cyber tree" a roman candle. This community has by itself brought in 10% of charitable donations to the North Shore Shelter this season. Without singing single bar of a Christmas song — they only do Broadway, it's show tunes all the time — this choir exemplifies the true spirit of Christmas
Borrowing from La Cages aux Folles, the choir affirms "We are what we are, and what we are needs no explaining". It became clear to everyone on Saturday that this includes having hearts as bold and vast as the North Pacific.
Mayor Smith lead us in the magic words that lit up the Festival's 100 Christmas trees, its "forest of miracles"; the gilded youth of the West Van Youth Band lit up the night with brilliant fanfare.
When they ended their set, the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's Executive Director, Karen O'Shannacery, OBC took the mic. She told us the story of a phone call she'd received earlier in the week from a West Vancouver resident, the descendant of a number of generations of West Vancouverites.
"Sally" had lost her home and her children due to her husband's violence. The violence had also triggered a profound anxiety disorder. She was en route to yield to her suffering by taking her own life, when she stopped in at the North Shore Shelter.
"Do you have a better plan for me?" she asked.
The answer they were able to give her was powered by the Festival's Christmas trees. These trees have raised over $100,000, thanks to the generosity of tree sponsors like Burstin With Broadway. The Lookout Society has used this money to fund its transitional support program. While the federal and provincial governments give money to the Shelter for emergency assistance, rescuing people from our beaches, ravines and streets, they provide no funding to allow these most vulnerable members of our community to get back on their feet. The Festival's Christmas trees do this.
Karen told us the Shelter was able to place "Sally" in its transitional support program, where she received the loving, professional support to heal and return to herself. She had phoned Karen to say that her children had been returned to her, that she had built a new career, and secured a new home of her own. "Sally", like Burstin With Broadway, shines with a heart as big and bold as the North Pacific.
From Mayor Smith's courage and candour in naming the truth of homelessness, to this choir and one woman's astounding strength, we saw the beauty of our community at the Dundarave Christmas Fair.
For as long as there's been a West Vancouver, families have been gathering at Dundarave Beach to play, cast a net, a line or a crab trap, or jump off the peer at high tide into bracing salt water that on a good summer might reach a balmy 19˚ C. (No chance of that, alas, this wet July as we swim through frigid sheets of February hanging in the sea.) This is the way its been for little over a hundred years, Dundarave Beach as something of a sanctuary for families.
Before there was a West Vancouver, epochs back to the arrival of the First Peoples across the Bering Straight land bridge (summer reading: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel), this beach remained a sanctuary but in even more powerful ways. The forests were ancient and likely came down to the edge of the water then, and the tides sustained a greater array of life than they do even now. We're seeing otters about today in greater profusion, and there was the grey whale last summer that paused right in the heart of the swimming buoys; but four thousand years ago, the magnitude of life on this beach would have been almost supernatural. It surrounded and sustained the ancestors of our friends of the Squamish Nation.
All of this underscores the enormity of the gesture of Wendy Charbonneau, whose many times great grandfather Chief George Capilano welcomed Captain George Vancouver to the waters off Dundarave Beach, in lifting her hands to welcome the Dundarave Festival of Lights last season. With the blessing of the Elders of the Squamish Nation, we named our principal performance space on the Beach the Festival Longhouse because, well, it is long but also because it is a place of sanctuary against the weather, a place to include everyone in celebrating the life of our community, a place to rejoice in the ways all of us belong here.
In the hands of Ryan and his crew at Wildcoast Productions, the Festival Longhouse is very much a twenty-first century take on the most ancient of structures, high tension cables and structural supports for an immense white roof. Raised and then removed for each Festival weekend, the Longhouse reflects our values of human ecology in sustainability and a no-trace presence on Dundarave Beach. A big bonus, which we try never to take for granted, is Ryan's unflappable professionalism in taking our vision for the site and making it happen--the grace of the Dundarave Nativity Pavilion and its spire high above the Beach standing with the welcoming expanse of the Festival Longhouse against the worst of a Pacific coast winter.
It may well feel like winter now in this flinty midsummer, but the weather calls us always to give shelter to each other, to make certain in every season we can all enjoy the comfort and power of belonging.
They built our community, calling it out of the ancient forests, laying the foundations of our schools and churches, our roads, bridges and libraries. They fought and sacrificed through two world wars, preserving the ideas of democracy and freedom against evil and suffering on a scale the world had never seen before. They "bathed" in the waters at Dundarave Beach, basked in the sun there and climbed the mountains to ski on virgin slopes, gave birth to our generations.
Today, and you will not read their stories in the North Shore News, the Outlook or in any other paper, many of the children of this "great generation", many of our elders have to make a choice between buying groceries and paying the rent. The economic downturn has hit some of them the hardest, forcing them out of their homes and into the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's North Shore Shelter. They are turning quietly to the shelter from West Vancouver and North Vancouver, not calling attention to the fact that they cannot keep a roof over their heads after giving their lives to create our way of life.
According to the staff of the Shelter, all of this started to happen with alarming speed over the last year, since the close of the Festival in 2009. Seniors, some of them with advanced degrees, started turning to the Shelter as their last recourse against the disturbing reality of the economic downturn. We don't know their names, nor do we have a right to know their names. They are registered in the 478 people who have logged into the Shelter, somewhere in the majority of people who stayed there for an average duration of 22.15 days between our last New Year's Day and today.
We have the power to answer their need, to give them love and support and safe harbour against a brutal economy, by lighting trees of hope on Dundarave Beach. Over the past two Christmases, these trees have raised $50,000 for the North Shore Shelter, and we are well on our way to increasing this running total in the Christmas that's coming to us now. Sponsor a Christmas tree for the elder in your life who's helped make you the person you are today, sponsor a tree for your family or school, for your business, church or community group, and let your tree be a brilliant part of the solution. This Christmas, in the Dundarave Festival of Lights, we can work to the day when we end homelessness beautifully. We can shine in the true spirit of the season, and live the best spirit of our community.
The Dundarave Festival Society
We are a circle of friends working in the Dundarave Festival of Lights Society to bring to life the promise of Christmas in our community, a season of life, passion and purpose that leaves no one in the cold. This is community-driven social change, in the true spirit of Christmas and the best spirit of our community.