The Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival has been celebrating Vancouver’s Downtown communities for 13 years now. This year the Festival returns to showcase the rich cultural history of an iconic neighbourhood, on Wednesday, October 26 going all the way up to Sunday, November 6, at over 40 venues. The Festival will host twelve days of music, stories, songs, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, theatre, dance, processions, spoken word, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibitions, mixed media, art talks, history talks and walks. The theme of this year’s Festival, Living on Shared Territory, pays tribute to the Downtown Eastside’s founding peoples, cultures and diverse neighbourhoods, as we live, learn and create together on unceded Coast Salish territories under the long shadow of our colonial past and present.

The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is infamous for being the poorest postal code in Canada. It is at once the city’s scar and an integral part of its folklore and urban culture. On the one hand, this area that stretches along Hastings Street, between Carrall and Jackson Street, and concentrated particularly at Main and Hastings, is impoverished, and riddled with drug addiction, prostitution, mental illness, and homelessness, but a closer look reveals a neighbourhood with an unshakeable sense of community and a thriving centre for activism for the marginalised. The neighbourhood was originally home to the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam First Nations, as well as to a prominent Japanese-Canadian population that later disappeared at the hands of European colonisation and World War II. It has changed hands numerous times since and evolved heavily over the course of the century to become a neighbourhood notorious for extremes of all kinds. At its core, however, there always beats a heart full of acceptance, empathy and love. The Heart of the City Festival brings these aspects of the Downtown Eastside back in the spotlight each year, and highlight the beauty and resilience of Vancouver’s most troubled neighbourhood.

Here are some of the Festival highlights we are looking forward to this year:

Festival Opening Ceremony

Artist Richard Tetrault HOCF mural_cred David Cooper

The Festival Opening Ceremony will feature the unveiling of an 11ft high x 18ft wide stage mural banner by award-winning Downtown Eastside artist Richard Tetrault. The mural banner powerfully evokes the Festival’s “Living on Shared Territory” theme and pays tribute to the extraordinary artists, activists, people, art forms and cultures of the Downtown Eastside community.
Wednesday Oct 26, 2pm. Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

Jam for Sam

Last November the Downtown Eastside community lost the much beloved Carnegie Centre regular and music lover Sam Snobelen. In honour of Sam, the Festival invites music lovers to this evening of jazz, music improvisation and jamming featuring the Carnegie Jazz Band and their finger snapping music, under the tutelage of multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Brad Muirhead, and community favourite Mike Richter, all playing songs that Sam loved and was inspired by.
Wednesday Oct 26, 7pm. Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

Realms of Refuge, An Evolving Gallery

Realms of Refuge is a two-week residency produced by Vancouver Moving Theatre and Jumblies Theatre (Toronto) that involves artists and community participants working together to create and animate miniature worlds that explore and express different ways we find, create and imagine places of refuge, shelter and comfort. Artists include Ruth Howard (Toronto), Savannah Walling, Kelty McKerracher, Bill Beauregarde, Renae Morriseau, Sharon Kallis, Russell Wallace, Rose Georgeson and Ronnie Dean Harris. The public is invited to co-create the miniature worlds and participate in a series of free events, including two Public Conversations: Being a Good Neighbour in the Downtown Eastside with Jean Swanson and Diane Wood; and Reconciliation and Cross-cultural Collaboration with Renae Morriseau and Rose Georgeson.
Wednesday Oct 19 to Saturday Oct 29. InterUrban Gallery, 1 E. Hastings (entrance on Carrall). Free

Chinatown Walking Tour

Chinatown Walking Tour, Steven Wong & Judy Lam Maxwell Cred David Cooper

Join hosts Judy Lam Maxwell and Steven Wong for a glimpse of Chinatown. The tour begins at a heritage restaurant space, climbs flights of stairs to a heritage clan association, explores a Chinese herbal medicine store and ends the walk at Modernize Tailors, the last Chinatown tailor shop celebrating 103 years. Both Judy and Steven have active ties to the people and businesses in Chinatown; Judy leads Historical Chinatown Tours and Steven is third generation ‘man about town’ in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Saturday Oct 29, 1pm. Meet at Sai Woo, 158 Pender. $10, pay what you can for local residents


The Festival is pleased to present the premiere of Metamorphose, a community-engaged dance production by Karen Jamieson Dance and the Carnegie Dance Troupe that explores transformation, creation and imagination through dance.
Sunday Oct 30, 4pm. Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, 149 W. Hastings. Free

Barrio Flamenco: Flamenco for the People

Celebrate the spirit of the Downtown Eastside with an unforgettable evening of live flamenco music and dance! Flamenco is an art form by and for the people, danced and played with spirit, ferocity, laughter and tears; full of pain yet also joy. Hosted by flamenco dancer, singer and teacher Kelty McKerracher, Barrio Flamenco features some of the most compelling flamenco dancers, singers and musicians in the city, alongside the Downtown Eastside Flamencos.
Wednesday Nov 2, 7pm. Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

Two evenings with Dalannah Gail Bowen – Women in the Round & Songs of Love 

Downtown Eastside’s own award-winning Dalannah Gail Bowen has been music-making for over forty-five years, and has been an integral part of the DTES Heart of the City Festival. The Festival has the honour of presenting Dalannah and her truly unique and powerful voice for two evenings of blues, jazz and gospel. On Nov 3rd,Women in the Round features Dalannah with Renae Morriseau and Sandy Scofield singing traditional and contemporary songs; and Songs of Love on Nov 4th explores the wonderful world of love songs, featuring Dalannah with Grammy-nominated pianist Michael Creber and drummer Chris Nordquist.
Thursday Nov 3, Women in the Round; Friday Nov 4, Songs of Love.
Both shows at 7:30pm. InterUrban Gallery, 1 E. Hastings (entrance on Carrall). By donation

Aboriginal Voices

The Festival and the Vancouver Public Library are excited to present an afternoon with writers and elders Lee Maracle and Bev Sellars reading from their latest works. Lee is a member of the Stó:lō Nation, author of numerous critically acclaimed literary works, and one of the first Indigenous female authors published in Canada. Bev was Chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake for over 20 years. Her book, They Called Me Number One, won the 2014 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
Friday Nov 4, 1:30pm. Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

Survivors Totem Pole

Bernie Skundaal Williams Survivors Totem Pole
Bernie Skundaal Williams Survivors Totem Pole

The Festival is honoured this year to partner on the installation of the 27ft Survivors Totem Pole in Pigeon Park (Hastings and Carrall). In the words of pole carver Skundaal Bernie Williams (Haida/Coast Salish), this grassroots initiative led by Sacred Circle Society “honours the many people who have arrived and lived in the Downtown Eastside as survivors.” Skundaal is the only female apprentice of the renowned carver Bill Reid. The events of the day include a procession of the Survivors Pole from Main Street down Hastings to Pigeon Park followed by the ceremonial pole raising, arts and craft sales by local artists, and a celebration featuring local artists from diverse cultures. Presented with City of Vancouver, Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, Portland Hotel Society and Potluck Café.
Saturday Nov 5: 11am, Main & Hastings; 12:30pm Pole Raising Ceremony, 3pm Celebration. Pigeon Park (Carrall & E. Hastings). Free

Ukrainian Hall Community Concert & Supper

The festival ends on a high note at the east-end’s historic Ukrainian Hall with lively music, invigorating dance and colourful costumes at Ukrainian Hall Community Concert & Supper. This annual favourite, produced with the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, features the Barvinok Choir and the award-winning Dovbush Dancers. Special guests include: Zeellia, Vancouver’s own Slavic soul band led by Beverly Dobrinsky; the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble led by Jirong Huang; and the Lil’wat family performance group Tzo’kam led by Russell Wallace. We look forward to the unique and original collaborations to be presented by this afternoon’s special guests. Immediately following the concert is the always-delicious traditional Ukrainian Supper.
Sunday Nov 6, Concert 3pm, Supper follows. Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender.
$25. For advance tickets contact 604-254-3436

2016 Festival partipants Cred David Cooper


-Prachi Kamble

Living on Shared Territory: The 13th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival

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