So many people ask me, “how did you ever come up with the idea to start the Festival?”
While living abroad for 13 years, every spring I missed the gorgeous cherry trees 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 seemed like 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 was founded in 2005 supported by its launch partner the Vancouver Board of Trade as a Spirit of Vancouver initiative. 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, arts, and cultural events and a city-wide blossom viewing program. In 2008 VCBF was offered a home at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and a new cherry tree grove was planted in the Garden dedicated to the Festival’s Blossom Benefactor, the Honourable Dr. David C. Lam. Currently, the Arts, Culture, and Engagement Team of the Vancouver Park Board have provided the Festival with a Residency Partnership in the West Point Grey Community Centre.
The Festival unites Vancouver 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 more events are added to the program and while fostering civic pride at home, the Festival is also building new international friendships and cross-cultural exchanges through the international Haiku Invitational which annually receives poems from 43 countries.
The underlying purpose of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is a simple one embracing citizens of all ages. We are blessed to have these trees and the more closely we look at them and the more we learn, the more enjoyment they give us. Vancouverites with their healthy outdoor lifestyle now have even more choices with Bike the Blossoms, guided interpretative Tree Talks & Walks tours, and picnicking under cherry blossoms at The Big Picnic. The result of these activities was Neighborhood Maps an online interactive viewing map displaying on desktops where some of the best cherry blossom sites are located in Vancouver’s 23 neighbourhoods and across Metro Vancouver. In the Spring of 2022, the Festival launches a new mobile-friendly feature, Mobile Maps. Like a cherry compass, it will direct you to the cherry blossoms nearest to your location right on your phone! Additionally, the Festival published a field guide about our 54 different cultivars entitled Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver by Douglas Justice.
The ephemeral nature of the blossoms reminds us of our own fleeting lives and inspiring us to seize the moment and celebrate life now. In our universal response to their beauty, we are united in community. Reminiscent of the famous Issa haiku, truly ‘there is no stranger under the cherry tree.’