The Edmonton Heritage Festival is an annual festival that celebrates the cultural diversity in the city. This year, it took place from Sat, Jul 31 2021 to Mon, Aug 02 2021, over the Heritage Day long weekend. I went bright and early on the first day, Saturday Jul 31 2021.
The festival is held in Hawrelak Park, and the format has each country being alloted one or two tents, and then turning the tent/s into food or souvenir shops and staffing them with volunteers from what assumedly is the country’s local cultural association.
This blog was written on Aug 01 2021.
Point of order first: I don’t actually have much to say about the event, so most of the talking will be up here, and the other categories are mostly pictures with the occasional comment. There were lots of countries, and the tent numbering on site was extremely haphazard and haywire, so I didn’t even bother sorting them in any way other than alphabetical by primary country.
I’ve visited this event once before, in 2019, and I enjoyed myself at the time, although i don’t have many pictures to speak about from it. It is also possible that I visited it with the family during one of the first few years that we were in Edmonton, but I certainly do not remember that.
The event is free to enter, though, but this year they handed out free admission tickets that you had to claim from Eventbrite and bring along with you to be allowed in. This supposedly controlled the number of people that were in the park at any one time. In reality, since there was no maximum time you could spend in the park, I’m not sure how useful this was overall, but the park was pretty huge anyway. They had several other listed precautions (local) too, but in actuality half of them weren’t enforced. Masks were given out at the entrances but were definitely NOT enforced by staff, or even the police patrolling the grounds, which probably isn’t surprising since most of the stalls had some sort of food or drink stall. However, there was also no plexiglass shielding on most of the stalls (there were on some), the queue lines by and large were not socially distanced and not enforced, and the 10 meter distance between tents was inconsistent (although mostly adhered to). So yeah, not really as advertised.
it looked like the ticket system was scrapped late in the planning process in favour of the no-contact system too, and this was probably better anyway, but it was rather telling that a lot of the food stalls still had signs that mentioned a cost in number of tickets.instead of in regular dollars. i definitely recognized multiple stalls from 2019 though, selling pretty much exactly the same thing as before, so maybe it’s just the case that a lot of the countries just had their own standard signs and were too lazy to replace them.
Anyway, I left early in the morning on Saturday, Jul 31, and took a train over to the University Station before walking right to Hawrelak Park itself. The walk to Hawrelak Park took about 30 minutes from the University, but the alternative was a shuttle bus that cost $6, or two transit tickets, and I didn’t want to spend that sort of money. A lady volunteer who was helping direct cars to the Heritage Days “Park ‘n Ride” at Windsor Car Park at the University, where you could park your car and then catch a bus to the Hawrelak Park, suggested that I walk anyway because the weather was still cool in the morning and it was a pleasant and mostly downhill walk. I agreed, and joined a gentle stream of other people who had decided to make the walk down to the park from the University.
As a sidenote, I found out when leaving the park that the reason that it cost double the usual cost to take a bus down to the event was that they didn’t want to give out bus transfers to people on the way there and assumedly influence them to hurry through the festival and return before it expired to save on a ticket. So the $6 or 2 tickets up front was meant to make you pay and cover your return trip in advance too, and they’d give you a regular transit transfer ticket to get onto other buses/trains if you required one on the way back. But in practice, this meant that people like me, who walked there but wanted to take a bus back to a gathering point, could take the bus back for free, because there was no way for the drivers to check who had paid $6 to get here and who hadn’t! They didn’t give the riders any proof of ridership or anything. And I tried to talk to the driver to tell him that I hadn’t paid for a ticket on the way here, and he just gave me a return transfer and shoo’d me onto the bus. It’s like a gaping loophole that no one cared about but that cost them money in the end.
So anyway, I walked to Hawrelak Park from the University LRT station and arrived at 9:40 am or so, walked around until 12:45 pm, and then took a bus back to the South Campus LRT station. The weather was great at first, then the sun started to really burn down.
Have some pictures, split into a billion little galleries! Note that I’m using the same names as used on the actual official map, so there are some weirdly named entries (like Dutch instead of Holland, etc.)
ට General Info/Map
ට Burkina Faso
ට C’ote d’Ivoire
ට Hong Kong
ට Newcomers Tent (Eritrea, Nigeria)
ට Sri Lanka
I bought the drink that they were selling here, the “Lemon, Lime and Bitters” for $4, because I noticed that the cup they were using to fill the drink for other people was pretty big. I’m surprised most of my photos turned out so low quality, but the sign on the tent read something to the effect of, this drink has a bit of alcohol mixed into it but even then is regularly served to children in Australia too. I didn’t feel any of that, it was just really fizzy.
I had some hibiscus flower juice (bissap) from this store, but it just tasted like sweet cherry and I didn’t like it. The store was also blaring out really loud music from the loudspeakers and I had trouble conveying what I even wanted to the drinks vendor due to that. Also, the cup was tiny for $4. Rip off.
Although the map called this tent the Ecuador tent, it obviously was a collab and had El Salvador’s flag and name there as well. I do not think this was not the only collab, as some of the African nations seemed to have something like that going on, but most of those were coy about it (and didn’t show the other country names/fly their flag) whereas this one wasn’t.
I made my only non-consumable purchase here, and it was a red folding hand fan that looks like it’d belong to a princess (and it does, now!), because the weather has been so hot lately. It cost $5. I could have gotten flimsier-looking wooden ones in various shades of pink or purple for the same price, but those look like they were made out of ice cream sticks, whereas this one looked a lot sturdier and professional, and thus will probably last a couple of weeks longer. It had threads sticking out of it and threatening to run free, but nothing a quick scissors job at home couldn’t fix.
Joking aside, I do like the fan. There was a calligraphy place in this tent as well where I could have gotten someone to paint my Chinese name on a plaque of some kind, but I had no idea where I’d actually hang something like that, so I did not opt for it. And those pictures were nice, but a little pricey, and again, same problem with where to put them.
The indigeous people’s store was just the same food truck that was also at the Taste of Edmonton. I even see one of the people that was in the other picture in this one. But really, the most interesting thing with this tent setup was how they couldn’t actually use the other half of their tent because it was overrun with wild geese! The pack of geese were just there, chilling in the shade and pecking against the ground at some food or other.
The Israel tent was closed, for reasons explained on the sign below. That’s too bad. I’m not going back there another day just to see that one tent. Yet, it’s neat in a sense that they adhere to that tradition through this festival too.
This stall was exactly the same as when I visited in 2019 — I had the fresh young coconut drink back then, and this year there was a man belting out “Fresh Young Coconuts!” at the top of his voice to try to entice people in, which I also remember from 2019. Honestly, this store was disappointing, since none of the dishes are particularly special- or authentic-looking (except maybe the rojak/satay or maybe nasi lemak), and by this I mean that most of them seemed like generic Chinese or Malay food that you could get from a local restaurant or Chinese supermarket. There’s a lot of exotic food that they probably could have tried for, but didn’t. There was no culture/bazaar section either, or I’d have bought out the entire thing! The store was also one of the stores that were a bit off the beaten path, which probably hurt their patronage numbers.
Mexico won my prize for the unfriendliest booth at this festival — one of the ladies (the one in the green shirt on the right in the last picture) told me that pictures weren’t allowed, as I waited to try to snap a good picture of the front right side of the tent. I already had pictures from before they said that though, so I kept those anyway. Maybe if you don’t want pictures, don’t volunteer for a festival like this. Plenty of other people were going around taking pictures and videos too.
Anyway, I do not recommend this country’s stall. And obviously by extension that means the country is terrible (this is sarcasm).
This food stall tent was crowded and difficult to get a good snapshot of so I had to just do it from the side eventually. The line stretched on to the right of the picture.
This was a joint tent with Nigerian Vendors (23 on the map) and Eritrean Vendors (50 on the map), both hidden by the Newcomers Tent symbol (24 on the map). Whoever made the map is terrible at making maps because it took forever to figure out. And whoever set up the tents is terrible at advertising because some of the tents weren’t labelled with the country. It’s even more important than normal for the newcomer countries trying to gain exposure!
The Palestine tent was the 2nd friendliest tent after Taiwan — the ladies at the tables posed for me to get a shot of them, and the man by the table at the front of the tent was busy entertaining a couple kids and showing them the colourful bowls of.. sand? crystal? in front of him, while the lady beside her was chatting to another photographer lugging a big camera around about how they had made those bottles with pretty designs from those sand crystal things. I don’t know exactly what they were but they were quite lovely!
A friendly man by the ice cream cart was ringing a bell and trying to get people to buy his ice cream. I told him I already had had some earlier. I think he took it to mean I had already bought some from him, whereas I meant that I had already bought some from another stall (Russia’s).
I tried to buy some of their dumplings here, but it was apparently too early in the morning and they weren’t ready yet. So I went for some ice cream instead.
I almost lost my ugly hat that I was wearing because I took it off when I sat down at a picnic table to consume the svadbarski kupus/boiled cabbage that I bought here, and forgot it when I stood up, so it fell down on the grass behind me. Some lady noticed it and yelled at me to grab my attention though, so I managed to save the hat. Thanks, lady!
But seriously, the cabbage was wonderful. The helping wasn’t very big, and I’m not sure it was quite worth $6, but it tasted great! The bread was free so I used the soup as a dipping for it.
This stall wins my award for friendlist stall in the festival. I had a brief but nice chat with two separate guys here, one that offered me a bunch of free pamphlets and magazines from a table on the left side of their tents, showcasing their culture and country (“Firefly Watching in Taiwan!”, “Working Holidays in Taiwan!”, “Taiwan Tourist Map”, etc), while the other was setting up a random prize thing (the red envelopes in the final picture) and said that they were giving away mini prizes like lanterns to people who bought $20 of their food or more. He was also the one posing for the lady in that picture. Furthermore, the booth on the left with the lanterns over it (picture 4) was giving away stickers or toys to children, rather than actually selling anything, I believe. Kind of makes me want to visit the country. I know of that flying lantern festival and want to see it.
Tanzania’s tent was next to the closed Israel tent, and made Israel look good in comparison. This tent was just not there. They weren’t prepared at all. I guess we know one country that won’t be getting their full-fledged tent status renewed next year.
The Vietnamese tent used half of their space to provided shaded tables for their patrons, but they didn’t follow COVID-19 guidelines at all.
There were also a bunch of sponsor tents and other things scattered around the place. Here is a general gallery of them.
The Polish tent also had a performance from the Lowicz Polish Folklore Ensemble that I managed to partially catch. I didn’t stay for the entire thing, but I did take a couple pictures and videos that I have attached below. The announcer was making some off-key sexist jokes before the dance started (i.e., “We’re going to be a few minutes late.. blame the women.. they always need to take extra time to put on their make-up and look their best..” etc) but the dance itself was fun. There were several stages like this set up around the park for different countries, but this was the only one I saw while there. I went to the side of the stage to watch the show because there were picnic tables and camera tripods set up directly in the front center area.
I also had a fun little interlude while between stalls at one point. The festival was held in Hawrelak Park, which had a large pond in it, and the park itself is home to ducks, geese, and various other wildlife roaming fearlessly around too.
So while I was standing near the edge of the river, taking pictures, this happens:
It’s the most boring video ever, but Jah seems to want to watch it, so here’s a five minute video of the wind blowing and the water rippling. Oh, and there are ducks cleaning themselves too. A mother and her kid wandered up at some point too and you can kind of hear the mom pointing out the ducks in a muffled voice. There’s also some background wind noises and festival music noises, but we were probably at least 150 feet away from the actual festival.
And finally, here are some misc pictures that don’t really fit anywhere else.
Although there were still a lot of countries this year, there were quite a few notable missing ones. This is more obviously if the map of this year‘s festival grounds is compared to the one from 2019, but I’ll be frank and say that I was disappointed at what was missing. In particular, everything from East Asia was missing — there was no China, no Japan, and no Korea. There was a Taiwan and a Hong Kong, and I suppose depending on your point of view you could argue that one or both were China too, but neither one can or should represent the greater mainland China by itself, and the 2019 festival had a Hong Kong, a Taiwan, *and* a Chin..ese, so it could certainly be done. There were lots of other missing big ones too, like Italy, Spain, and Afghanistan.
The naming scheme from the organizers is pretty awful too. For example, the 2019 map has Chinese instead of China, and the 2021 map has Dutch instead of Holland or Netherlands, even though the 2019 one has Netherlands. And somehow CUBA is capitalized, as though it’s an acronym. And what’s with the nonsensical Feature 1-4 and Fence symbols on the 2021 map?
I also wonder what relegates some countries to the Newcomers tent, as both the countries in there this year, Nigeria and Eritrea, definitely had their own tents in 2019 according to the map as well. And last year there was no Heritage Festival (well there kind of was, but it was online). Does this mean that all the no-shows this year will be newcomers for the 2022 edition?
As there was a bit of a heat wave going on, I definitely used the opportunity to sample more drinks than I normally would, but I didn’t spend much money there in the end, as all I bought was two drinks ($4 each), an ice cream ($5), a boiled cabbage dish ($6) and that folding fan ($5). Didn’t even spend anything on transportation in the end. Nothing really caught my eye from the stalls, whereas last year I remember purchasing several keychains and bag tags, and a couple other things from the Japanese or Chinese shops.
Anyway, despite wearing a mask during most of my time there, I definitely should quarantine for most of the next two weeks just in case. Or at least limit where I go. Unless I discover some event I absolutely must attend and chronicle!