So many people ask me, “how did you ever come up with the idea to start the Festival ? “Living abroad for 13 years with my husband in the Canadian Foreign Service, every spring I missed the glorious cherry trees in bloom at home in Vancouver. A Japanese diplomat, Knobu-san, told me about the age-old Sakura Festivals of Japan. Since many of Vancouver’s 43,000 cherry trees originated as gifts from Japan, creating a Vancouver festival struck me as a perfect way to express our gratitude for this generous gift and to celebrate the beauty and joy they bring to everyone.
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival non-profit society was founded in 2005 and led by a dedicated board of directors who shared my vision, supported by its launch partner, the Vancouver Board of Trade as a Spirit of Vancouver initiative. With their help, the first Festival was produced in 2006, and in 2007, formal recognition of the Festival’s objectives qualified it for charitable status. These objectives included public education through seasonal, cherry themed, city wide viewing programs, musical performances, and fine art and craft exhibitions. In 2008, the Festival was kindly offered a home at VanDusen Botanical Garden. A new cherry grove was planted in the Garden dedicated to the Festival’s Blossom Benefactor, The Honourable Dr. David C. Lam.
The Festival unites Vancouver’s citizens—a citizenry with a richly diverse cultural heritage—in happy celebration of this unique seasonal phenomenon. The Festival inspires participants to express their response to these extraordinary trees in music, poetry, photography, art, design, craft and cuisine. Each year there are more programs. Each year there are more participants. And while fostering community spirit and civic pride at home, the Festival is also building new international friendships and cross-cultural exchanges through the international Haiku Invitational program.
The underlying purpose of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is a simple one embracing all citizens of all ages: we are blessed to have these trees and the more closely we look at them and the more we learn about them, the more enjoyment they give us. And, likewise, the more we are motivated to care for and nurture them. Vancouverites, who already enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, now, through the efforts of the Festival have even more choices. They can ‘Bike the Blossoms’ or enjoy guided walking tours of ‘Festival favourites’ or participate even more actively as Cherry Scouts: locating, identifying, photographing, recording and sharing their favourites. The result of these activities is an online, up-to-date Cherry Blossom Viewing Map covering the 23 neighbourhoods of Vancouver. Another is the Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver field guide which purpose is to help everyone notice the beauty around them and to look more closely. This field guide is designed to be a handy-sized invaluable aid for identifying and learning about the fifty-four different cultivars of ornamental cherries in Vancouver.
I believe in the power of the blossoms. It’s appreciating the beauty in life that makes life worth living. In our universal response to their beauty, we are united. Especially during these times we must connect back to nature. Reminiscent of the famous Issa haiku, truly ‘there is no stranger under the cherry tree.’ The ephemeral nature of the blossoms reminds us to seize the moment and celebrate life now.
Linda Poole, Festival Founder and Executive Director