One of the most celebrated and beautiful aspects of the city of Vancouver is its diverse population and rich cultural influences. Before European settlers came to the Pacific North Coast the lands were inhabited by a variety of First Nations peoples. Over time, people of all nations came to the city and today the population is a mixing pot of all cultures, nationalities, and religions. There are people from all over the world living in this city but here are a few of different cultures that have had the biggest impact on Vancouver’s identity.
As of the last census in 2016, the city of Vancouver’s population was recorded at 631,486. The population of Greater Vancouver’s surrounding areas came in at 2,463,431. As one of the most densely populated cities in Canada, Vancouver is home to many people and all of those people come with their own histories, heritages, religions, and ethnicities. In the 2016 census, the breakdown of ethinic origins consisted of 49.3% European, 32.1% South Asian, 20% East and Southeast Asian, 3.1% North American Aboriginal, 2% Latin, Central, and South American, 1.7% African, and 1.1% Oceania.
People of all ethnicities are spread throughout the city but some neighbourhoods are more highly influenced by one culture. One of the most significant culturally rich neighborhoods is Vancouver’s Chinatown. Here you can shop the traditional apothecaries and specialty markets, dine at one of the many restaurants serving authentic Chinese cuisine, or enjoy the contemporary nightlife and mingle with locals and tourists alike.
Vancouver’s Chinatown began to form in the late 1800’s as Chinese immigrants came seeking wealth from the Gold Rush and looking for work during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. By the early 1900’s, Chinatown covered four square blocks. Today it is one of the biggest and most populated Chinatowns in North America and was named a National Historic Site in 2011.
Another area with a high number of Asian-themed shopping and Chinese owned businesses is the Golden Village commercial district in Richmond. According to the 2016 census, 54% of the citizens of Richmond come from a Chinese background. In the Golden Village and surrounding Richmond areas you’ll find plenty of Chinese influence, as well as many shops and restaurants from a variety of different Asian cultures. In the summer months visitors can explore the Richmond Night Market, a wonderful festival of food trucks and vendors selling delicious eats and interesting wares from a variety of Asian regions and other international countries.
The First Nations people who reside in the Vancouver area consist of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, all of which are part of the Coast Salish group. The city of Vancouver exists on the traditional territories of these peoples and as such many people, groups, and institutions make a point to recognize this fact by stating their acknowledgement of the fact we reside on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people.
Only a fairly small percentage of Vancouver’s population is made up of First Nations people but the influence of their culture is largely celebrated everywhere around the city. You can see the famous Stanley Park totem poles at Brockton Point, gaze upon historical artifacts in the UBC Museum of Anthropology, or view both traditional and contemporary aboriginal art within the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and many of the other galleries that fill the city.
After World War II there was a large influx of Italian immigrants coming to the city of Vancouver. The area around Commercial Drive became known as Little Italy in the 1950’s and the name has stuck even though the Italian population has been greatly supplemented by many other ethnicities moving into the area. The area still has plenty of Italian residents, restaurants, cafes, and businesses and you can visit the Italian Cultural Centre near Beaconsfield Park to learn more about Italian-Canadian heritage.
Indian immigrants first came to Vancouver in 1897 during a parade and tour of the British Empire celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. A handful of soldiers from the Sikh contingent decided to stay behind when they passed through Vancouver. More South Asian settlers arrived in the early 1900’s and many of these pioneers found work in the sawmill industry. The first Sikh temple in Canada was constructed in the Kitsilano area in 1905 with another following close behind in 1908 in Fraser Mills. The Kitsilano temple is no longer standing but the Fraser Mills Gur Sikh Temple is now the oldest existing Sikh temple in North America and was made a National Historic Site Canada in 2002.
Today, the largest population of South Asian people in Metro Vancouver can be found in Surrey but on Vancouver’s Main Street you’ll find the vibrant Punjabi Market neighborhood, also known as Little India. In the shops you’ll see colorful pashminas and saris and sparkling gold bangles. In the food markets and restaurants your senses will be awakened by the aromatic spices and exotic flavors.
Vancouver is home to some of the most incredible cultural events which are held throughout the entire year. In January and February Chinese New Year is celebrated with a parade in Chinatown and many other events throughout Vancouver and Richmond.
2020’s Coastal Dance Festival is held from February 24 – March 1, 2020 and features the stories, songs, and dances of the Indigenous peoples of North America’s Northwest Coast. This festival showcases artists from British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska, and Washington State as well as special guests from around the world.
The European Festival, held May 31, 2020, will delight festival goers with authentic ethnic food, traditional and contemporary performers, and cultural displays from across Europe. The festival invites Canadian-Europeans to showcase their music, dance, unique customs, traditions, arts, cuisine, and heritage.
On June 14, 2020, Commercial Drive celebrates Italian Day and the streets are transformed into a 14 block celebration of Italian culture, heritage and community. There are typically over 120 partners, vendors, and community organizations involved in the events with over 300,000 attendees.
East Indian culture is celebrated across the Lower Mainland during Diwali in October. Diwali is celebrated across the world and is the largest and most popular event in Indian culture. During this time there will be fireworks and celebrating with dance, music and storytelling.
Vancouver would not be the gorgeous metropolitan area that it is without the diverse people who make up its population. Every culture that came to this area contributed their own art, architecture, cuisine, and beliefs that make Vancouver the city it is today. Always respectful of its First Nations roots and continuously proud of its ever evolving diversity, Vancouver is a colorful and vibrant city that celebrates all of its long time residents, new arrivals, and touring visitors.