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The Cultures that Make Vancouver “Vancouver”

Exploring Cultural Influences in Vancouver
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Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities in Canada. It’s a melting pot of cultures and traditions that color every aspect of city life.

Eager to know more about the cultures that shape Vancouver and the cultural events you can immerse yourself in? Stick around to discover them!

What are the cultures that shaped Vancouver?

First Nations

First Nations
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The Coast Salish, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations are indigenous to the Vancouver area. These peoples have been living in the region for thousands of years, long before European colonization.

Their history predates recorded history, but key moments include their initial encounters with European explorers in the late 18th century.

Today, you can see their culture in Vancouver in the totem poles in Stanley Park and other art installations, and special events.

Lately, these First Nations are getting more recognition for their rights to their land. For example, the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations are now important players in deciding how land in Vancouver is used and developed.

Additionally, Vancouver is starting to use the First Nations’ traditional knowledge, especially about nature, in taking care of the environment. 

Schools are teaching more about First Nations’ history and views. Businesses like Skwachàys Lodge in Gastown (which not only had First Nations artists design the rooms but also supported them), and Salmon n’ Bannock at the YVR (Why is Vancouver airport called YVR?) proudly showcase the culture.

Finally, the whole city celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day, which shows how important First Nations cultures are to Vancouver.


Image by emily_m_wilson on Adobe Stock

Around the 1790s, a British explorer named Captain George Vancouver explored the area. He’s the reason why the city and many places in it have their names.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, a big British trading company, set up shops in the area long ago. These shops were important for trading and later turned into settlements.

The British officially started running the area with the creation of the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849 and then the Colony of British Columbia in 1858. This brought British laws and ways of managing places.

The British also brought their style of buildings and cultural traditions. Some old buildings in Vancouver today show this British style.


Image by JSMimage on Alamy Stock

Italians began moving to Vancouver around the late 1800s and early 1900s, drawn by the promise of new opportunities and a better life. This initial wave of immigration laid the groundwork for the Italian presence in the city.

The end of the Second World War marked a significant increase in Italian immigration to Vancouver. Many of these post-war immigrants chose to settle in neighborhoods like Commercial Drive, which is still renowned for its vibrant Italian community.

These Italian immigrants actively shaped the neighborhoods they settled in. They opened cafes and shops, infusing a distinct Italian flavor into the local business landscape. 

Their entrepreneurship not only added to the economic vitality of these areas but also created lively community hubs.

Beyond business, these immigrants formed community groups, further strengthening their cultural presence and fostering a sense of community in their new home.

The impact of Italian culture in Vancouver is most visible in the city’s culinary scene and its celebration of Italian traditions. Italian cuisine has become a staple in Vancouver, reflecting the deep-rooted influence of Italian culinary traditions.

South Asian

South Asian
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South Asians started moving to Vancouver around the late 1800s, mainly for jobs in farming and forestry. They were among the first South Asians to make Vancouver their home.

More South Asians came to Vancouver in the 20th century, especially after the 1960s when Canada changed its immigration rules.

They formed strong communities, especially in places like Surrey and some parts of Vancouver. These areas are well-known for their South Asian cultural touch.

South Asian people opened many businesses in Vancouver, like restaurants and stores, bringing their unique tastes and products to the city.

Big celebrations like Diwali and Vaisakhi, important festivals for South Asians, are now celebrated in Vancouver too. These festivals share South Asian music, dance, and food with everyone.

The South Asian community has also influenced art, politics, and the way people in Vancouver live together, helping to make the city more diverse and welcoming.


Image by V. J. Matthew on Adobe Stock

The Chinese influence in Vancouver is deep and visible across the city. It started with early immigrants who played a crucial role in building the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

Vancouver’s Chinatown, a vibrant area with unique architecture, shops, and restaurants, is one of the largest and oldest in North America. 

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a serene and beautiful landmark, reflects traditional Chinese culture. 

Additionally, the Chinese community has significantly contributed to Vancouver’s business, education, and politics, becoming a core part of the city’s diverse cultural identity.


Image by Troy on Adobe Stock

Japanese people started moving to Vancouver in the 1870s, working mostly in fishing. They set up communities in places like Steveston and Powell Street.

They brought parts of their culture with them, like sushi, which is now really popular in Vancouver. 

They also introduced special gardening and art styles, some of which can be seen in the installations up in Burnaby Mountain Park (Burnaby Mountain Park).

During World War II, Japanese Canadians faced tough times with internment, but they overcame these challenges and rebuilt their communities after the war.

Nowadays, Japanese culture is a big part of Vancouver. It’s seen in arts, events, and businesses. Places like the Nitobe Memorial Garden (Nitobe Memorial Garden) and the Japanese Language School are examples of this lasting influence.

What are the cultural activities that you can join in Vancouver?

Talking Stick Festival

Talking Stick Festival
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The Talking Stick Festival is a big celebration of Indigenous art and culture in Vancouver. In 2023, it happened from June 1st to July 2nd, and had different events in several places, like The Cultch Historic Theatre and SFU Woodwards.

People going to the festival saw many cool things. The opening night had live music, Métis dancing, and more. There was also the Summer Reverb Gala, with jazz and lots of other performances. 

A special night called DJ Kookum’s Indigenous Day Eve mixed Indigenous traditions with hip-hop music. On National Indigenous Peoples Day, there were ceremonies, stories, music, dance, and a fashion show.

Other unique parts of the festival included a movie called “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” and a special audio show based on Anishinaabe stories. There were also talks about art and culture. 

All these events showed the talents and stories of Indigenous people, making the festival a really interesting and important part of Vancouver’s culture.

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
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The Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver is an annual event that showcases Shakespearean plays and related performances. 

In 2023, it ran from June 8 to September 30. This festival is known for its dynamic productions and takes place at Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park, offering a beautiful waterfront setting. 

Visitors can expect to see a mix of classic Shakespeare plays and unique interpretations, with 2023 featuring productions like “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar,” “Henry V,” and “Goblin: Macbeth.” 

The festival provides a full package of romance, music, comedy, and drama, appealing to both Shakespeare enthusiasts and new audiences.

Italian Day

Italian Day
Image by Denis Kuvaev on Shutterstock

Italian Day on The Drive (Commercial Drive) is a large cultural festival held annually on Commercial Drive in Vancouver’s Little Italy. 

In 2023, it took place on Sunday, June 11th. This festival celebrates Italian culture, heritage, and community, covering a 14-block area on the Drive. 

Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including live music, fashion shows, food, wine, and dancing. 

The event is a vibrant expression of Italian culture and a significant community gathering in Vancouver, showcasing the rich heritage and contributions of the Italian community in the city.

Chinese New Year Parade

Chinese New Year Parade
Image by Sergei Bachlakov on Shutterstock

The Vancouver Chinese New Year Parade, also known as the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, is a key event celebrating the Lunar New Year. 

It’s held in Chinatown, starting from the Millennium Gate, usually on the Sunday following the Lunar New Year. 

In 2023, it occurred on January 22nd. The parade, with floats, bands, and cultural performances, offers a festive and lively experience with lion and dragon dances and vibrant street celebrations. 

This popular parade attracts large crowds, making it a highlight of Vancouver’s cultural events.

Vaisakhi Parade

Vaisakhi Parade
Image by Oleg Mayorov on Shutterstock

The Vaisakhi Parade in Vancouver, a grand celebration of the Punjabi New Year and also commemorates the establishment of the Khalsa Panth, a core group of warriors formed by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

It’s typically held in mid-April. The 2023 parade was on April 15th, starting from the Ross Street Temple and winding through South Vancouver until about 4:00 pm. 

It’s a bustling event, drawing an audience of over 150,000. The parade is characterized by its vibrant traditional Indian music, colorful clothing, and an abundance of free food offerings along the route, creating a lively and culturally rich atmosphere.

Sometimes, it falls on the days when cherry blossoms come out, so those participating in the parade enjoy the added visual appeal.

Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry Blossom Festival
Image by Dorota Photography on Shutterstock

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual spring event, celebrates the beauty and cultural significance of cherry blossoms. In Japanese culture, these blossoms symbolize the transient nature of life, embodying beauty and renewal.

In 2023, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival celebrated the blooming cherry blossoms with various events. 

The festival included a range of activities such as the Sakura Days Japan Fair, which showcased Japanese culture, and the Cherry Jam Downtown Concert, offering musical performances. 

Additionally, there were community bike rides, tree talks, and walks, enabling participants to enjoy the blossoms while learning about their significance and the environment. 

The festival’s blend of cultural events and nature activities highlighted both the beauty of cherry blossoms and their cultural importance.

Vancouver International Film Festival

Vancouver International Film Festival
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The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is a major event in the city’s cultural calendar, typically held in late September to October. 

The festival celebrates world cinema, showcasing a diverse range of films including documentaries, international and Canadian films. Attendees can expect screenings across various venues in Vancouver, including the VIFF Centre. 

The 42nd Vancouver International Film Festival, held from September 28 to October 8, 2023, featured a wide range of events celebrating film and film culture. This included stellar cinema, live performances, talks, conferences, and other unique events. 

The festival was a gathering point for film fans, filmmakers, and industry professionals, offering an exceptional celebration of Canadian, Indigenous, and International cinema. 

Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Image by Gunter Marx on Alamy Stock

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival, typically held in late June to early July, is a popular cultural event celebrating the rich and diverse world of jazz music. It showcases world-class international and Canadian jazz artists across various venues in Vancouver. 

The festival is a highlight for its eclectic mix of traditional and modern jazz, attracting a wide audience of music enthusiasts. 

It’s celebrated for bringing together a vibrant community of musicians and fans, making it a dynamic platform for cultural exchange and appreciation of jazz. 

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