Vancouver’s story: A lack of unity

More than a habit, it’s a religion. Before setting foot in a new place, I study the museums, the great monuments, the beautiful architecture. It’s a purely intellectual exercise. I believe that the works conceived by another belong to another time. Or maybe that the very time I spend contemplating the work of that other becomes an essential element of it as I find myself entering into the timeline of my own existence. I find the traces of suffering, joy – even indifference – visible in these works to be both fascinating and frightening.

Fascinating because they focus on the cultural suggestions of a place, more precisely, on what was written before our time of personal existence by men and women of another time. Frightening because they remind me of the transience of my own existence.

Nevertheless, does it not amount to a quest, to an existential query of this wandering being, in the occurrence myself, present in a new space and restricted by the passage of time? What have these others done who have preceded us with their time on these lands and in this very country?

And Vancouver in all that is certainly not an exception. I pass through it, trying to discover something that makes us contemporary to the men and women who were here before us. What they left behind should allow that. Alas, the history of this country is brief. We have a lack of history. Vancouver refers us back to our native lands and opens up its arms to welcome our past, all these arts and cultures that we have previously seen with our eyes and felt with our souls.

In an almost strange manner, this city readily admits that the start of its history is in progress, that the departure point is this short moment when one looks back towards the past and the last two steps.

Vancouver makes us realize that our temporal distance with its beginnings is brief. The brevity of Vancouver’s past changes our relationship with the city. We are not here to observe, preserve, continue or modify history. We are here to make history, to make from our personal histories that of a city, of a land rich with an extreme – almost savagely so – beauty. We are here like all the others, coming from elsewhere, with our own culture and history. To each their vision, to each their lifestyle, to each their own uniqueness. It is up to us to build a new horizon, a new cultural entirety comprising all cultures.

Vancouver's chaotic, accidental beauty. | Photo by Ashu Shah

Vancouver’s chaotic, accidental beauty. | Photo by Ashu Shah

The cultural story that is Vancouver seems certainly to be like a rough draft enriched with our otherness. However, it is lacking in unity. This story is the personal story of each of us and the history of this city is the history of the distant. One might say that Vancouver’s past never happened here. The cultural history of Vancouver is nothing other than the diverse pages of history turned elsewhere.

So, is this the reason we call Vancouver a “multicultural city”? A multiculturalism dependent on the breaking of the spatial continuity of the world’s past history, launching all the while, a solemn call. Come here to make history.

Certainly, multiculturalism in Vancouver uncovers its seductive face. It is progressing towards an unknown yet promising future. It is proud to be here and doesn’t stop searching for sense and

However, this multiculturalism is far from being formed by the cultural diversity. It represents, to tell the truth, a certain diversity of communities. Here, communities are a sort of cultural nutshell. Finally, it is a random assembly of different ethnic and cultural communities on the same land, and it’s missing a connecting wire, a wire capable of linking all these cultural options together in order to attain unity.

In short, Vancouver learned to create itself freely from our pasts, which in turn speak constantly of elsewhere. As for us, we learned to live together with the offerings of the present, to create the future and to thus leave a rich heritage for the generations to come.