Imagine being able to travel around the whole world in just one day, making stops at 100 different countries without any layovers. Imagine being able to immerse yourself in many different cultures, being able to join in on traditional dances and songs, witnessing stunning and vibrant art and cultural displays, and indulging yourself in various cuisines that stimulate your taste buds and make you go crazy for more. If I gave you the opportunity do so, would you do it? Just imagine…
Now stop imagining! You can actually do all this without even stepping foot on an airplane! That’s unless you live outside of Edmonton of course. Edmonton’s Heritage Festival is the world’s largest three-day celebration of multiculturalism. It is held annually over August long weekend and displays tented pavilions representing up to 100 different countries. The Heritage Festival allows Edmonton’s cultural groups to feature their dance and song on stages, arts and cultural displays in their individual tents, as well as a showcase of unique traditional foods from up to 70 different kitchens. The festival requires over 2000 volunteers and is spread over 60 hectares at William Hawerlak Park, which is located near the center of the city.
So how did this festival even come to be? In 1974, the government of Alberta declared the first Monday of August to be an annual holiday that recognizes and celebrates the diverse cultural heritage of Albertans. This day became known as “Heritage Day”. The first celebration was held the same year and included a multicultural concert with performers from only a few ethnic communities. As the years went by, and Alberta became more diverse, the festival expanded to include more and more countries that display their cultures through entertainment, interpretive materials, crafts, and cuisine.
Now you’re probably wondering, how do I attend this festival and how does it work? Well, come the August long weekend, all you have to do is walk, bike, take the transit, taxi, or Uber to Hawerlak Park. Oh, and if you’re not already in Edmonton, you’ll have to get here first. Once you get to Hawerlak Park, just walk through the gates because admission is FREE! You don’t have to pay to walk around to look, listen, and travel from country to country. However, if you want to try some foods from the far east of India, or from the southern tip of South America, and everything in between, you’ll have to fork up some money in exchange for some food tickets. Also, if you want to bring home a souvenir or travel trinket, you may need to pay the “locals,” but hopefully you can barter with them for a better price.
The last thing I want to talk about is my favorite country pavilion to visit. The Philippines! (Yes, this may be a little biased since my family’s roots are from there) The Philippines had an extensive diverse colonial period. Thus, Filipino culture has been influenced by various groups such as the Chinese, Malaysian, Austronesian, Spanish, and American. This makes the Filipino pavilion very exciting to visit. You may get to see a cultural dance using giant bamboo sticks, eat freshly deep-fried spring rolls, and even take home a little toy “jeepney”.
To conclude, now that you know what the Edmonton Heritage Festival is, how to attend it and how it works, and which pavilion you MUST visit (wink-wink, nudge-nudge), I can leave you back to imagining…
Imagining fast-forwarding to the end of the pandemic so we can “travel the whole world in one day again”. Back to a time that allowed all of us from all corners of the globe to gather and share and embrace each other’s cultures.
Written by: Brad Dela Cruz