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.
Festival Founder Tim Lack joins in at the West Vancouver Community Day Parade.
Long before blogs and iPads, the festival was the original social networking platform, the place where a community would gather to take stock of itself, celebrate the best of its traditions, and renew the relationships -- one to one, family to family -- that give life meaning, security and joy. The work of the festival has always been to build community and to do so, going back to the root of the word in "feast", in a spirit "characterized by rejoicing".
You can see this on the front page of this website, a sampling of the faces of the hundreds of performers and the thousands of people in their audiences who set aside the pressures of the holidays to connect with the best spirit of our community, the true spirit of the season. The experience was powerful because, as we rolled into the longest nights of the year, we gathered together in the ancient and beautiful duty of making sure no one is left out in the cold. And it was a ton of fun. Keeping the concerts free, holding them in the wheel chair accessible shelter of the beautiful Festival Longhouse and Nativity Pavilion, and timing them to make sense for the needs of families in the busiest season of the year allowed us to collect ourselves in a spirit of rejoicing because no one was left out in the cold. Thanks again, O Department of Canadian Heritage, for helping us make this possible last season.
But here's the thing. Even as we work now to create the program for the Festival's 20th Anniversary this season, in the height of summer, www.dundaravefestival.com continues to log 1500 hits on its website each (way off season) month. This is a bit of a mystery because, although Morris dancers, children's choirs, massive mariachi orchestras, show tunes, and stellar folk artists are always in season, this is very much a website that celebrates the light of the Christmas season. So why the interest even through the summer months? It comes back to this fact of community, and the ordinary miracle -- to borrow again from Sarah McLachlan -- of the ways we need each other, reach out to each other and deepen in each other a sense of belonging.
None of this happens automatically, and we're grateful for the love and support the Festival receives from its circle of Founders. Moving forward to our 20th Anniversary this season, we're working out new ways to keep the Dundarave Festival of Lights inspiring and inclusive. This means, first of all, keeping its concerts absolutely free. It also means tapping into the power of our forest of Christmas trees -- the only one of its kind in coastal British Columbia -- to help us end homelessness beautifully. Because no one should be left out in the cold.
To find out how you can support the Festival, or to share with us your ideas for ending homelessness in our community, post a comment to this blog or contact us here.
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.