An invitation to share

verbatimWhat will you do in Vancouver? That’s the question I had to answer in the months preceding my departure from France. I initially chose to settle in Vancouver for the following reasons: the language spoken and the fact the city is a compact urban centre surrounded by nature and with solid environmental credentials.

Vancouver has the reputation of a city offering a great quality of life. It was recently ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the top ten most liveable cities in the world.

I know now Vancouver is more than that. What distinguishes a city above all is the people who live, work and interact there to create its social fabric. The city hosts a diverse population without prejudices or phobias – 44 per cent (2011 Census) of its residents having a mother tongue other than English – and is one of the most cosmopolitan urban centres in Canada. Quite often you become aware of that while riding public transport.

The last time I took the bus I was reading a book in French while next to me a man was having a phone conversation in Spanish. Two women were having a discussion in Mandarin when three young Japanese women got on a few stops later. The metropolis of the Pacific is just like that bus. Daily you hear Spanish, French, Mandarin, Russian or Korean spoken.

Here my accent doesn’t surprise anyone. To the contrary, it elicits interest and dialogue. The same can be said of your nationality and your roots, as well as of your religious convictions, your sexual orientation or your appearance. Here it would seem that we encourage distinctiveness and that the integration of new arrivals into society occurs spontaneously. The willingness to share a common territory and to embrace cultural diversity is the prerogative, often fragile, of prosperous societies.

This willingness is so intrinsically tied-in to the history of Canada and particularly to that of this Western Canadian city that there is no doubt as to its long-standing nature. And for good reason, as it is the source of the city’s cultural richness and greatness. This diversity of peoples and of languages in tandem with the economic growth being experienced allow for very varied cultural activities of high calibre.

A pleasant surprise as Vancouver is not particularly well known for its cultural life, as would be New York. Community arts and recreation centres, as well as the large cultural institutions and festivals of the city, all, without exception, pay particular attention to the diversity of their audience and adapt their programming to its inhabitants. For example, the public library offers workshops in French or Chinese. The existence of places such as the Italian cultural centre and of events like the Japanese Canadian Festival and the Rendez-Vous French film festival attest to the importance of the different communities that live here.

As a result the city offers a very rich and varied program of events. Enough so to belie the talk of a colleague who wrongly told me that I would be bored here: to the contrary, it is physically impossible to see everything that interests me, so great is the choice.

Vancouver appears to have found a solid footing in diversity and sharing where art and culture, essential agents of identity and social cohesion, play an active role. So it is that in British Columbia as the sun sets while I sit by the bustling seaside at English Bay, watching the red light in the distance above Vancouver Island, I sense the whole eclectic city spreading out towards the mountains to the east and all the vibrant nature that flourishes there. I sense all the people who dream there and share in its immensity and then I say to myself that I have simply come to live in Vancouver.

Translation Barry Brisebois