Vancouver’s heritage shaped by many faces

The public lecture series Shaping Vancouver 2017: Reshaping Conversations on Heritage delves into the diverse cultures that shape our experience of place in Vancouver.

It’s these diverse cultures that influence the growth of Vancouver,” says Bill Yuen, one of the talk organizers and the manager for Heritage Vancouver Society. “Our heritage is shaped by living communities, cultural practices, and how these cultural practices shape place.”

Yuen explains there are many aspects of Vancouver’s heritage, other than Anglo-Colonial architecture, which should have historical prominence in the city. These include the long histories of Indigenous People and their traditional territories across B.C., as well as the migration of settlers from places like India, China and France who have all made enduring contributions.

The upcoming talk Undefined Heritage – Diversity, Inclusivity and Understanding brings different voices to the forefront to celebrate Vancouver’s diverse cultural heritage on May 11 at Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Jewish contribution

Michael Schwartz, director of community engagement for the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC, looks forward to sharing how the Jewish merchants arrived in Vancouver in 1858 as part of the Gold Rush era. B.C. Synagogues and schools today provide evidence of a thriving Jewish community and, according to Schwartz, it’s their deep-rooted belief in social justice that continues to shape Vancouver.

“The Jewish community rallies behind a sense of social justice that makes our city, our country, and our world a better and more just place,” says Schwartz.

Past atrocities endured by the Jewish community make them deeply committed to advocating for other people who are prosecuted for their beliefs. They frequently work with international communities to help endangered families immigrate to Canada. Closer to home, the Jewish community is recognized for its charity efforts. In the late 1970s, the National Council of Jewish Women organized the first portable truck used for hearing tests, which visited over 90 schools across the province.

“The Council presented the first bus to the Health Department in 1984 and the second in 1986 for the symbolic price of one dollar a piece,” says Schwartz.

Historic recognition

Yuen suggests many culturally significant spaces around the city still lack historical recognition.

“For many ethnic groups, many of the places where they experience rituals are not considered architecturally significant, yet these places are part of their cultural heritage,”
he says.

Maurice Guibord, president of the Société historique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique and a founding member of the Heritage Vancouver Society, will represent French-speaking Vancouverites during the panel discussion. Guibord recalls a French community that was once centred near Saint-Sacrement Church on Heather Street, near West 16th Avenue. The village disappeared as families interspersed across the city. Today, there is little historical prominence given to the remaining church and school. Yet, the francophone culture flourishes because the community maintained a strong connection to their French language.

“As francophones, we live a very rich life in Vancouver,” says Guibord. “We don’t find it necessary to connect to a heritage building in order to reinforce our culture.”

For Schwartz, the talk is an opportunity to hear other points of view and share ideas with different community groups.

“I believe that differences make us stronger people,” says Schwartz. “Being able to live with differences at home allows us to better empathize with people around the world. The world is vulnerable and precarious so we need to build empathy to have any hope of improving it.”

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