Sunday, July 31, 2016: Positively Powell Street

I’ve spent the morning dancing, singing and drumming in my kitchen to my new favourite tune, “Like a Drum,” written and performed yesterday by Yukon’s Diyet, who brought her band to the Powell Street Festival in Vancouver’s former Japantown.

The verses are strong and compassionate: “Will no one stand up and shout / for the boy being pushed in the school yard / for the beggar we know nothing about.” I find the chorus even more compelling: “Oh my heart, oh my heart, beats like a drum, like a drum for you.” For me, it celebrates both humanity and the Divine, the big You.

I can’t stop singing the chorus and may even bring it into this evening’s Chanting & Chocolate – 7:30 at Or Shalom, 10th and Fraser.

The free Powell Street Festival, which continues until early this evening at Oppenheimer Park, is marking its 40th anniversary as a showcase of the Japanese-Canadian community. Diyet’s link is through her Japanese grandmother, one facet of her diverse ethnic mix that includes Southern Tutchone, Tlingit and Scottish.

The festival features crafts booths, community organizations, martial arts, performances and especially a wider variety of Japanese foods than you’ll find in any restaurant.


Powell Street Festival goers line up for the great food served up all weekend.

Vancouver had a vibrant Japantown in what is now known as the Downtown Eastside until after Pearl Harbour in the Second World War, which sparked the wholesale internment of the Japanese Canadian community, many of them born in Canada, mostly in camps in the B.C. Interior.

Post-War, they were forced to settle east of the Rockies or be “repatriated” to Japan, and weren’t allowed to return to the West Coast until 1949. The first and second generation – the Issei and Nisei – scattered to the suburbs, not wanting to be identified as a racial community.

The third generation – the Sansei – wanted to rediscover their roots and launched the festival in 1976. At that time, I was living in Toronto, and first discovered the festival after returning to Vancouver in 1979 with my Japanese-born wife.

I was amazed by the drumming by Vancouver’s first taiko group, Katari Taiko. Here were young men and women playing intricate rhythms on big drums, sweating, dancing and yelling encouragement to each other. This definitely was not the tea ceremony.

Now there are nine groups in Vancouver, one of which, Sawagi Taiko, I saw play yesterday. I was inspired by Katari Taiko to study in Japan for two years, and then played in Vancouver for eight years. More about that another time.


Vancouver’s women’s group, Sawagi Taiko, performs at the Powell Street Festival.





Saturday, July 16, 2016: My annual can’t-miss event

The annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival is my can’t-miss cultural event, with spiritual high points too. A beautiful community is recreated every year inside the gates at Jericho Beach Park where thousands come from near and far to enjoy a fantastic world of music from just about every genre short of classical.

The Folk Fest began in 1978 and I’ve been coming since the early 1980s. I covered it for 13 years for The Province daily newspaper, and for the last several years I’ve been editing the performer profiles for the program guide to earn my weekend pass and meals backstage with the rest of the volunteers.

For two decades now there’s been an announcement from the main stage inviting people to gather by a large tree near the fence by the beach to welcome Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that begins at sundown Friday and continues until sundown Saturday. And every year a couple dozen Jews and friends answer the call. Except for two years where I filled in, Rabbi David Mivasair has been leading the prayers and blessings.

We light candles, bless challah bread and the fruit of the vine, and sing to welcome the Shabbat angels and celebrate how brothers and sisters can dwell together – this year Hadani Ditmars added a Muslim prayer. Saturday evenings we gather again to usher out Shabbat and welcome the new week.

Another spiritual high point for me is the annual gospel workshop on Sunday mornings at 10 at Stage 2. One year, it was missing from the schedule – the nerve! – but returned the following year due to popular demand. We all sing up a storm.

Speaking of storms, from the weather forecast, it looks like rain will hold off until Monday, sparing festival goers but dousing the folks who will be dismantling the site. Rain has often come on the festival weekend, and until I sold my nearby house in 2003 I had a comfy refuge. More recently I’ve been able to retreat to the covered dining area backstage.

More information about the Folk Fest here.


The Crooked Brothers perform at the Vancouver Folk Festival.


The sun sets over the porta potties at the Folk Fest.

Sunday, July 3, 2016: Bold and beautiful

By day, my cohousing neighbour Cyrena Huang is a mild-mannered cello teacher wearing serious glasses. This weekend I discovered that by night, she ditches the glasses, wears a form-fitting dress and takes the stage at Vancouver’s Kino as a bold and beautiful flamenco singer and dancer.

What a transformation – kind of like from Clark Kent into Superman. But more about that below.

On Friday night, another cohousing neighbour, Paddy, and I settled into a table next to the stage and were treated to a passionate and masterful set of of singing, instrumental music and dance.

While flamenco comes from Spain, it has been embraced all over the world. The performers on stage were a prime example, with Cyrena, whose roots are in Taiwan, her teacher Kasandra “La China” Lea, whose roots are in Hong Kong, and musicians from Italy, Syria and Israel.


Cyrena Huang performs with Emad Armoush and Liron Man.


Cyrena dances with her teacher Kasandra Lea.

The Kino – next to the Park Theatre on Cambie – has been hosting flamenco performances for 23 years. There are three sets a night on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Cyrena first discovered it while walking by 14 years ago and was captivated by Kasandra’s dancing. (It turns out both had played in the National Youth Orchestra.)

Cyrena began studying with Kasandra at Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy and in time has become a teacher there. Here is a 2007 blog post by Cyrena on the academy’s website where she describes her experience:


Friday, July 1, 2016: Happy Canada Day

Canada Day has been a day for planting. First I planted my Made in China flag among my herbs. And then I planted 10 Japanese eggplant seedlings in our newest gardening space at Vancouver Cohousing.

Our building plans called for a large community garden of almost 2,000 square feet on top of two one-storey homes. But we ran out of money. In fact, we went half a million dollars over budget. So, a number of things were cut.

One was furnishing the 6,500-square-foot, which we’ve managed to do anyway by pooling our resources. And thanks to Cam’s resourceful ingenuity, we now have the rooftop garden with a greenhouse.


He began by gathering wooden pallets from a Home Depot. But let Cam tell the story, as he did in an email to our community:

Vesanto and I would like to thank those who helped with the soil and work on the rooftop garden yesterday including Joe, Cyrena, Joanne, Tara, Heather and JM. Also thanks to Fabrice for inspiring and getting the roof top gardening started so well.

As you know the escalating cost during construction meant that the deck for the rooftop garden was scratched as the cost for deck and planters was approaching $30,000 to $40,000.
Those who like gardening were of course disappointed  as funds for a garden seemed far off. After consulting a variety of folks about a low cost solution I started looking around at community gardens and other low cost garden areas. The HOME Society manages 2 community gardens on borrowed land.
After getting on Craigslist it seemed clear that there was plenty of wood for free but it came in the form of pallets. There were also large plastic barrels which if sliced vertically could serve as light weight garden containers. Finally a WindSong friend who manages the Richmond Harvest recycling depot helped by arranging that we could pick up relatively inexpensive compost.
With an old van I began collecting pallets and barrels. We collected and moved up about 50 pallets. Again thanks for all the help with this upward mobility and 12 barrels (24 garden containers when split) so far. The patch work of many sized pallets were carefully placed on the roof using dense styrofoam under the pallets– the same as under our current decks.
After the pallets were up and we had many visitors including children, it became clear that children like the roof as well. This lea to a search for more wood to fill in the cracks in the pallets to make it as safe as possible. Some of this was found in our HOMES storage areas, some at Wood-Knot a social enterprise HOMES manages; and 2x4s were also sliced up (each 2×4 produced 5 pieces roughly 1.5×3/4 of an inch in size which is ideal for filling in the spaces in pallets).
At Windsong Cohousing we had many mini green houses in the gardens but I thought the upper garden might better lend itself to a single community greenhouse. Again using sliced 2x4s, cheap plastic, and some help on the roof, and consulting round the roof lines, we popped up a greenhouse on the weekend. Tomatoes and peppers tend to do better in a greenhouse and have an extended season. So far no slugs have discovered the roof garden.
We still have room for 50 more containers (25 barrels- I get 3 or 4 free containers every 2 weeks) Feel free to tour and to plant something or take potted plants up there. Beans, zuchinni, and squash should do well in full sun. For those who would like to plant up there, we would like to create a watering roateion; to start it will be hand watering. V
Vesanto has moved up number of plants (mainly peas, squash, and arugula) from the lower garden by the ramp. With a small crew of helpers (Joanne, Cyrena, Vesanto), these are looking good. The roof deck is a great place to relax, tan and appreciate sunsets on the 4 folding chairs. If you come up with children, please remember it is a garden and not a play area. Donnie has done a wonderful job of helping children get a appreciation of garden bounty in the lower gardens. Thanks to all the help and vision of folks like Colin and Donnie in setting the tone for low cost nutritious food. We have a few more pieces of plastic to hang on the green house. It will have roll up sides and some doors for easy ventilation.
I am very thankful for all of the help and support and encouragement. Please visit and enjoy the upper garden. Fell free to add enhancements–it is your garden.
Cam Dore