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.
On Saturday when the Elders of the Squamish Nation gathered, in regalia, in the Festival's Dundarave Nativity Pavilion a brooding and prayerful quiet fell over the Beach. The sun was as high as it can get at this time of year, low on the horizon and heading faster than any of us would like it to set behind the jagged ridges of Vancouver Island. The Elders' purpose, and the sincerity of the way they expressed it took your breath away, was to honour the nobility and goodness of the spirit in everyone gathered at the Festival, pressing in all around them in the Pavilion. They placed our Master Carver Bill Seminoff at the heart of the site, asking him to stand beside Melchior, the second king of the Dundarave Nativity, honouring the 700 hour labour of love Bill had poured into this carving to make sure it would be ready for this Christmas. Lead by Wes Nahanee, they raised their hands above their heads in the highest form of greeting and then they lifted their voices in song, signing in the first language heard on this beach thousands of years ago.
We did not know at the time that all of them were carrying with them the pain of a terrible act of violence that took place the night before in their neighbourhood. There was only a powerful dignity in their faces, a deep joy welling up as they struck the drums and sang those ancient words. This was a moment of grace borne out in music, and when they finished their first song of blessing the crowd gathered around them, and most of us had not heard anything like this before, fell into something like a silent awe until Wes Nahanee said "It's alright everyone, you can make noise if you want to". And then the ovation came, rolling like a peal of thunder from everyone gathered round.
At the end, after the Elders had made their procession from the Dundarave Nativity Pavilion to the Festival Longhouse, they said this was as it should be, that all of us in all of our diversity -- from the first peoples to walk on this Beach to the people from every corner of the planet who now join them here, should enjoy the freedom of living in peace and joy of this afternoon every moment of the year.
There was a different joy, but the same spirit, when Cheko Tohomaso took centre stage at the Festival Longhouse with his VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir. He drew it out of us, setting spirituals and standard carols to a rollicking Motown vibe. You could not keep silent, or keep your feet still in the presence of a choir and a choir director who named the importance of our moment with soul.
And so the Festival continues to its World Christmas, doubly blessed.
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.