The West Vancouver Harmony Festival

Every summer, the August long weekend marks the beginning of the ten-day West Vancouver Harmony Festival. It’s a joyous event which attracts visitors from far and wide.

The parks along the seashore, west of the Lions Gate Bridge and across the narrow inlet from Stanley Park, between the 14th Street Ambleside Pier, and the children’s fantasy playground and waterpark at 16th, are festooned with balloons, banners, lanterns and signs welcoming visitors to the Festival. Musical programs cater to all tastes from three different stages set up in the midst of food carts, restaurants and bars. There are art shows, activities for the kids, book readings, and cinema in the park each night. And then there is Art Market, the stretch of tiny marquee tents set up the length of the sidewalk on the north side of the park, each with an artist, artisan, or craftsperson displaying their wares. For three days mid-week, the Art Market becomes The Art of Photography.

There is nothing more fun than to browse the Art Market and meet the artisans. It’s best to go early when traffic is light and the vendors are free to talk. It is fascinating to learn what they do and how they do it, where they come from and where they exhibit. Sometimes the least inviting stall provides the most interesting story. The sculptor who models family installations in clay, for example, shows me pictures of commissions she has done for clients all over the world. The painter originally from the Maritimes talks about his technique and how he thinks up the names for his whimsical paintings.

An older photographer tells me that he bought a camera on retirement and now uses a tripod in his studio to take the stunningly delicate photos of flowers he sells. His wife recounts the circumstances when pictures of Pitt Meadows and the Golden Ears, views I love, were taken, one very early in the morning, the other in the middle of winter. He calls his photography “a hobby.” It’s obviously “a business” in which his wife plays an active role. Another artist who paints old cars and water scenes and his wife tell me that they live near the Fraser River in Hammond, not far from where my grandparents lived and my parents married. They fill me in on the few remaining landmarks I might recognize in the area, and the changes in the municipality today.

A tiny woman with greying hair who does exquisite weaving volunteered that she first learned to weave when her daughter went to school. “Let’s see, that must be 40 years ago.” An aging glass-blower tells me his own provenance, from an apprenticeship with Vancouver’s leading glass-blower, years ago, to his own studio on his farm in Port Kells. A young man selling stylish glassware made from recycled beer bottles volunteers that “there is no point in you buying here.” He comes from near Haliburton in Ontario, and his glassware is available in Toronto in the Distillery District and elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, the boats pass by, the children build elaborate forts on the beach, and play in the waterpark nearby. Early the next morning, the fishermen come to catch their limit of crab. Summer in the city goes on as it normally would. 

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