2012 Edmonton Heritage Festival
An International Festival of Food, Culture and Entertainment from Around the World
The first weekend of August is a long weekend in Canada. In Edmonton, that means it's time for the Heritage Festival. Every year, thousands of people come out to enjoy food, cultural displays and entertainment from dozens of countries around the world, while at the same time donating thousands of pounds of food to the Edmonton Food Bank.
Though we have lived in Edmonton for half a dozen years now, and this is the sort of event I really love, this is actually my first year taking in the festival. There are two reasons for this. The first is my thorough dislike of crowds. With other festivals, I've developed ways to work with, or even avoid, the crowds, but I wasn't sure how to go about that with this festival. The other reason is that I'm from Manitoba. I've been to Folklorama a number of times. I knew that a 3 day festival with a large number of pavillions jammed together in one area could not compare to the two week extravaganze that is Folklorama. I wouldn't be able to help comparing the two, and that just didn't seem fair.
This year, however, my older daughter insisted on taking me. Of course, I brought my camera along (this time, I brought my old Canon Powershot S3), and the photos you see here are among those I took that day.
In your area
Do you have festivals in your area that celebrate many cultures at once?
Heritage Festival Details - Hawrelak Park and How to Get There
The Heritage Festival takes place in the William Hawrelak Park, not far from the downtown core and the University of Alberta.
Admission to the festival is free, but people are encouraged to bring non-perishable foods to donate to the food bank. Large cardboard bins are scattered all over the festival area for donations.
Tickets are used instead of cash for food and drinks. A sheet of 30 tickets costs $25, though they can be purchased in any number. The ticket booths are cash only, but there are portable ATM machines available all over the place. Festival goers are encouraged to donate any left over tickets they have to the food bank as well.
Driving There is no public parking available in the park during the festival. Only permit holders, such as volunteers and organizers, can bring vehicles in. For those like us, with a ride available, there is a drop off area near the front entrance. This is also where taxis would drop passangers off as well.
Cycling A fenced off area is set aside near the entrance where cyclists can leave their bikes for free.
ETS, the Edmonton Transit Service, has park 'n' ride areas with shuttle buses to the park available around the city. Most of these buses are wheelchair accessible (wheelchairs and stollers are also available to rent at the park). There is also DATS, Disabled Adult Transit Service, available for those registered with them.
Note: because of the food service, no dogs are allowed in the park during the festival. Service dogs excepted, of course.
August is often the hottest time of year out here, so it's a good idea to be prepared. Water and other drinks are available at all pavillions, but it would be a good idea to bring a water bottle along as well. I'd also recommend wearing a sun hat or using an unmbrella or parasol for shade. We saw a number of pavillions were selling parasols, and were doing a brisk business of it! Sun screen and bug spray are also good ideas.
This year (2012), the Heritage Festival had 63 pavillions representing more then 85 cultures. Typically, there were at least two tents per pavillion; one for cultural displays, information and activities, and another for food and drink preparation and sales. Some pavillions also had an outdoor stage.
The pavillions were set up on groups in about 4 sections of the park. The festival started at 10 am, so my daughter and I arrived early to avoid the crowds. We weren't the only ones. Ticket booths already had line ups of people buying tickets, and some of them weren't even open yet. When 10 am rolled around, however, very few pavillions seemed to be open, and even the ones that were, weren't ready.
For the first while, we were actually quite confused about things, wondering if we had mistaken the time it opened (we didn't), and where the different pavillions were. We had looked at the menus online and there were several we wanted to find in particular, but had no map. We saw people walking around with maps, though, so my daughter finally asked someone. It turned out they were included with one of the local newspapers. We don't buy that paper, so we never got one.
We did go into a few of the tents with cultural displays, demonstrations and items for sale. I'm not sure why, but both of us felt really uncomfortable going into the tents. Perhaps because it was still so early, but we kept feeling like we had gone somewhere we weren't supposed to.
There was one tent we went into that made me feel extremely unpleasant. I found myself looking around, wondering why the light was so strange. My daughter barely stepped in before she had to leave, her eyes in pain. I was barely able to see, and by the time I dashed out the tent, it felt like I'd had a headache. Once outside, we realized that the tent we'd gone into was red, while the others were white. Somehow, the change in light hurt our eyes and messed with our heads. After that, we avoided all the red tents except one that my daughter wanted to check out. By the time we walked about 2/3rds through the display, my daughter had to hold on to me to lead her out because she could no longer see. She is photophobic, but I'm not, yet I wasn't much better then she was!
I don't know why the light bothered us so much. It didn't seem to bother anyone else, including the people who had to stay in them all day. Unfortunately, it meant we skipped a number of pavillions I would have wanted to check out.
A number of pavillions had outdoor displays where visitors could pose for photographs, such as this one near the Scandinavian pavillion.
There were also a number of outdoor stages for cultural performances. This photo is of some very enthusiastic Polish dancers!
Cultural Displays and Activities
Many of the pavillions had cultural displays, items for sale, books and pamphlets about their country and culture, and more. In the India pavillion, you could get henna done. Others had volunteers in costume demonstration traditional activities, such as spinning, etc. Some also had food, candies or boxes of tea or coffee available for sale. I picked up a small box of Turkish Delight for my younger daughter at home.
Of course, there was lots and lots of food! Every pavillion had surprisingly extensive menus. For 3 or 4 tickets, you could get a quick snack, or for 8-10 tickets, you could get a full entree.
PIctured above is a plate of nalesniki - Polish crepes. These ones are filled with cheese, but they were also available with apple jam. They were delicious! We also tried sausage rolls (England - they were excellent), Rullapylsa (Scandinavian; spiced lamb on bread - surprisingly sweet, very tender and gone very quickly!) and Naan (India - sadly, the first time I've ever had bad naan. My daughter actually felt ill after eating it).
While all the pavillions had water or pop available for 3 tickets each, you could also get traditional drinks as well.
The Turkish pavillion had a tiny tent serving nothing but Turkish Coffee. For 3 tickets, you could get some in a tiny paper cup. For 6 tickets, you could get it in a tiny cup and saucer, which you could keep. The photo above is of my daughter's coffee. I actually got one myself, even though I don't drink coffee!
Other beverages we tried included Thai Iced Tea, Gulaman (a Philippine drink with gelatin and molasses) and a mango and orange drink that came from a booth that didn't seem to be associated with any pavillion. My daughter also tried Lech, a Polish non-alcoholic beer.
At the end of the day...
It was a long and extremely hot day, so my daughter and I left shortly after noon. What is normally an area for public parking had several lanes set up for the shuttle buses. This is also where a trailer was waiting to pack up donations for the food bank. In the photo above, you can see 9 full bins on pallets, waiting to be loaded. Volunteers were also available with containers to take donations of leftover tickets. There was a constant stream of buses, coming and going, so there was very little waiting time involved. For us, we had someplace else to go, so we took one of the buses that headed downtown, then transfered to a regular bus route.
If you would like to see more photos from the festival, please visit my flickr set here.
Was it worth it?
I mentioned at the beginning that this was a festival I had avoided going to for many years. Now that I've gone... well, I have mixed feelings. Was it worth it?
Shows and Displays: Yes and no. There was the problem we had with the red tents making our eyes hurt, but there weren't that many of them. For the first while, when things had just opened, we really felt quite unwelcome in a lot of tents - as if we were in the way - but by the end of our time there, that feeling was gone. There were some really excellent displays; some had gorgeous items for sale, and a few had activities available as well. There were very few displays that we didn't find interesting, but with the crowds, we didn't actually go into very many of them. As for the entertainment, we saw a few stage shows, but with the heat, we didn't hang around for long. I have much admiration for the stage performers, as well as the wandering performers in costume, such as the incredibly intricate costume pictured here, by the Taiwanese pavillion. I so wanted to get a good look at the incredible embroidery on that costume!!
Food and Drink: For the most part, yes. There were a few minor issues - one dish we wanted to try wasn't ready, and we were told to come back in 15 minutes. Twenty minutes later, they still weren't ready, so we went somewhere else. Then there was the naan. That was actually the first food item we'd picked up. Unlike me, my daughter had liked the flavour, but it left her feeling so ill, it was quite some time before she dared try eating again. Minor things like that aside, however, the biggest problem we had with the food and drink was our own limited budget. There were so many diverse cuisines to try! And so many drinks, as well (we have a thing for trying new beverages!).
Is it worth coming to Edmonton for? Hmmm.... That's a tough one for me to answer. Personally, because I dislike crowds and heat so much, it will take some convincing to bring me back again. Having said that, it's really a marvelous weekend festival. If you're in Edmonton in August, I would recommend going. With a healthy budget available! It's not that things are particularly expensive. It's just that there's so much of it! Also, be prepared for the weather. If you have mobility issues, keep in mind that there is a lot of ground to cover to see all the pavillions, and that it's almost all on grass.