Edmonton Heritage Festival
The Edmonton Heritage Festival is held annually over the August long weekend in William Hawrelak Park in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Showcasing Alberta's cultural diversity, the three-day festival offers visitors the opportunity to sample the food, entertainment, and arts and crafts from a variety of countries and cultures. It is currently known as the "Servus Heritage Festival." The festival has been organized by the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association since 1976.
The Festival is an alcohol-free, family-friendly event that attracts more than 300,000 people annually. Each day, the grounds are open throughout the day and into the evening. Entertainment from various entertainers throughout the park starts on the hour and half hour for the pavilions, which share stage time throughout the day.
The Festival relies on a significant number of volunteers to run the three-day event. Volunteers come from all walks of life and include individuals, nonprofit groups, and local clubs. They fill positions such as food ticket shifts and hospitality shifts. Volunteer photographers also help to document the Festival. Volunteers help with a variety of tasks such as food ticket sales, the volunteer registration table, hospitality, amphitheatre, children's tent, and golf course. The cultural pavilions also depend on volunteers to assist with their operations. Volunteers have helped with food preparation and serving, the arts and crafts displays and merchandise, and the actual entertainment.
During the Festival, several partnering organizations and sponsors also share the use of the Festival’s site.
The Festival is a family-friendly, alcohol-free event and there is no entrance fee to attend. However, patrons are encouraged to donate a non-perishable item to the Edmonton Food Bank. Pavilions sell culturally representative foods and drink at a nominal fee and offer entertainment, displays, and arts and crafts at no charge.
The Festival's official mission is "[t]o promote public awareness, understanding, and appreciation for cultural diversity through an annual summer festival, as well as to provide educational events, programs, and/or projects on a year-round basis."
The beginnings of the Festival can be traced back to 1974, when the Government of Alberta, acting through then Minister of Culture, Dr. Horst A. Schmid, declared the first Monday in August to be an annual holiday in order to recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans.
Originally declared as "Heritage Day" on June 6, 1974, the first Monday in August became "a showcase for displaying Alberta’s cultural diversity." The first "Heritage Day" celebrations were held in Fort Edmonton Park in 1974 and 1975, which included a multicultural concert with performers from several ethnic communities.
However, it was in 1976 that marked the first Edmonton Heritage Festival in its current form. In 1976, eleven ethno-cultural communities displayed their cultures' traditional cuisine, entertainment, interpretive materials, and crafts in Mayfair Park (subsequently renamed William Hawrelak Park in 1982), where it has been held ever since. 20,000 people attended the Festival in 1976. Since then, Festival has continued to expand and increase in popularity over the years.
In 1976, Horst Schmid encouraged Edmonton's Commissioner of Public Affairs to appoint several volunteers from the city administration to help transform “Heritage Day” into the Heritage Festival. Subsequently, this vision was realized when the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association was created in December 1976.
Steadily growing in popularity over the years, the Festival increased from 20,000 people in attendance in 1976 to 85,000 attendees in 1977 and reached 320,000 attendees in 1982, a record that was matched or beaten by the approximately 320,00 to 340,000 patrons who were in attendance during the 2011 Festival.
The Edmonton Journal's July 31, 1986 issue has commented on the Festival's longevity and enduring success: "The key to the continued success of the Edmonton Heritage Festival is the bringing together of all the ethnic groups of the Edmonton area to share their cultural heritage, with emphasis on arts and crafts, food, costume, national dress and certain aspects of song and dance."
The Festival has a tradition of selecting a special theme phrase to lend a unique element each year. The theme also serves to convey the Festival’s purpose and excitement as well as to encourage people to attend and join the festivities.
The theme for the 2012 festival was "Come Celebrate!"
Past themes have included the following:
1981: The Total Ethnic Experience
1985: A Kaleidoscope of Culture
1986: Edmonton Heritage Festival 10th Anniversary
1987: Come Along and Conga
1988: Fiddle Around the World
1989: Together We're Better
1990: Our Family . . . The World
1993: World Beat
1994: World Colours
1995: World Flavours
1996: Send a Message to the World . . . We're Proud of Our Heritage 20 Years Proud
1998: Tasteful - Our Heritage Your Festival
1999: Spirited - Our Heritage Your Festival
2000: A Canadian Tapestry of Culture
2001: Stirring up Fun
2002: Join the Celebration
2003: Imagine All the People - Now Meet Them
2004: Come Share Our Culture
2005: Come Join Our Family
2006: Come Be Part Of It!
2007: Come Join Your Friends!
2008: Come Join the Fun
2009: Come for a Perfect Day
2010: Come to our 35th Birthday!
2011: Come for a Cultural Adventure
2012: Come Celebrate!
Festival Prince and Princess
Every year, the Festival has a Prince and Princess, both of whom are chosen from the cultural associations that participate in the Festival. These children are generally between the ages of eight and twelve and "act as 'Honorary Ambassadors' of cross-cultural friendship and good will, and symbolize the hope all children carry for the future of our great nation, Canada."
The Festival Prince and Princess attend all formal functions that relate to the Edmonton Heritage Festival and also work within their specific pavilions. For example, during the 30th anniversary of the Festival, the Prince and Princess helped to celebrate the Festival's anniversary as well as Alberta's Centennial with a ceremonial birthday cake cutting during the Festival's Opening Ceremony.
2012 Festival Pavilions
In 2012, the Festival celebrated its 37th anniversary and took place from August 4–6, 2012 in William Hawrelak Park. Sixty-two pavilions representing more than 85 cultures were in attendance:
- Afrika OYI
- Hong Kong
- Ibero America
- Sri Lanka
The 1987 Festival was particularly notable for its theme of "Come-Along-and-Conga." That year, participants set a world record for the longest conga line ever with 10,442 people—an achievement recognized by a framed certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records, which hangs in the Festival offices to this day.
A Canadian Citizenship ceremony has taken place in past years at the Park's amphitheatre, which has also showcased dance and musical performances from participating pavilions as well as special guest performers. In previous festivals, this has included Ian Tyson, The Irish Rovers, legendary Edmonton fiddler Ron Boychuk, the Emeralds, Heino—billed as "Germany’s No. 1 Superstar"—and, in 2008, Natalie McMaster.
This event has become the Edmonton Food Bank's single largest annual food drive. In 1986, the Food Bank received 200,000 cans of food from patrons onsite as well as through donations dropped off at Edmonton's fire halls. Currently, approximately 50,000 kilograms of food is collected each year.
Accessibility and Transportation
From its early days, the Festival has addressed its patrons' diverse needs by increasing accessibility through the provision of providing wheelchair ramps, disabled parking, portable toilets for the disabled, and rest areas for senior citizens.
Currently, wheelchair and stroller rentals are also available on-site during the Festival and DATS vehicles are granted full access to William Hawrelak Park for drop-off or pick-up of patrons.
A free shuttle bus also travels around the park during the Festival with three designated drop-off/pick-up areas that are accessible for elderly and/or disabled visitors.
- Edmonton Transit System's Park 'n' Ride service
- Alberta Co-Op Taxi
- On foot
As part of its green commitment, the Festival instituted a requirement in 2010 for all pavilions/booths to use compostable plates, bowls, cups, glasses, straws, and cutlery that degrade within 45 to 60 days.
To facilitate eco-friendly transportation, the Festival provides two large bicycle compounds near the entrance to William Hawrelak Park and has also partnered with Edmonton Transit System’s Park ‘n’ Ride. A new system of refuse collection will be implemented for the Festival in August 2012.
In 1999, the Edmonton Heritage Festival was designated as one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association (ABA), the trade organization of the motor coach tour industry.
The Festival also won several awards from the International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA) over the years. Awarded annually as part of the Haas & Wilkerson Pinnacle Awards Competition, the IFEA's Pinnacle Awards "recognize outstanding accomplishments and high quality creative, promotional, operational, and community outreach programs and materials produced by festivals and events around the world."
The Festival received the following Pinnacle Awards in 2011:
Category: Best Full Length TV Program (national)
Award Won: Gold
Category: Best Organizational Website
Award Won: Bronze
Category: Best Event Program (interior four more colors)
Award Won: Silver
Category: Best Event/Organization Newsletter
Award Won: Bronze
Category: Best Sponsor Solicitation Video
Award Won: Gold
Category: Best Event/Program within an Event to Benefit a Charity
Award Won: Gold
(as a result of the Edmonton Heritage Festival's support of The Edmonton Food Bank)
Category: Best Press/Media Kit
Award Won: Silver
Marketing and Promotions
To promote the Festival and increase its visibility among the general public, advertising has been disseminated through local radio stations, television channels, major Edmonton newspapers, other local Edmonton publications, as well as Festival partners and sponsors. The Festival is also promoted though the Visitor Information Centres across Alberta.
In 2011, the Festival introduced a smartphone "app" to promote the Festival and encourage attendance among youth aged 18 to 34. Using the "app," Festival-goers were able to find each pavilion's location in Hawrelak Park, its event schedule and food menu, and the cost of each menu item.
The Heritage Festival Association also partnered with CTV in 2011 to present the inaugural CTV Citizen of the Year Award, "a new award that recognizes those who promote cultural diversity in Edmonton." Past recipients have included Michelle English in 2012 and two recipients in 2011: Issa Kamara, founder of the Sinkunia Community Development Organization and Amson Saintime, Executive Director of the Arbre de Vie Fine-Arts World Fellowship.
In 2012, Egypt marked its debut in the Edmonton Heritage Festival. The Festival featured more than 300 choices of food from a variety of cultures for people to choose from. In addition, more than 80 new Canadians were sworn in by the lieutenant-governor at William Hawrelak Park’s Amphitheatre on Monday, August 6, 2012.