As I ran through Hawrelak Park yesterday, they were getting ready for this year’s Servus Heritage Festival here in Edmonton. It occurred to me that the city is building a little city inside the city. This little city is getting ready to do something very important in city life – it will tell us stories about ourselves.
Edmonton’s first Heritage Day took place in 1976 with the idea of getting people more familiar with the culture of others. The Edmonton Journal reports today that the festival began modestly with 14 pavilions and 18,000 attendees. It is now a three day festival with over 80 ethnic groups represented this year. By 2006 the Festival’s attendance logged in at over 300,000.
This temporary little city has the physical hallmarks of any city. It has infrastructure: tents, electricity, gas, structures, a source of water and a means to dispose of our waste.
It also has a group of 6000 citizen volunteers that ensure that the event can take place. These people make sure this little city gets built and they make sure that when citizens arrive there is an event to enjoy.
The whole city takes part in creating and enjoying this event: citizens volunteer or simply show up and enjoy the event; there are people who build the little city and take it down afterwards; there are people who make sure it goes well, make sure things are safe and well-organized; there are various non-governmental organizations who make sure it is an event to remember.
The Heritage Festival gives us a chance to see what we might miss in our city lives. It gives us a chance to see and hear and taste and feel the very culture of our city.
While we enjoy food and culture from around the world in Hawrelak Park this weekend, we also enjoy the food and culture that nourishes our city. Physically and spiritually. We have created an annual opportunity for people to dive into their own culture and strengthen their shared identity. We are making a city on the Canadian prairies that is creating a whole new culture of cultures that allows various identities to thrive.
6000 volunteers create the conditions for us to be ourselves. 6000 volunteers create the conditions for us to see ourselves.