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.
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.