Servus Heritage Festival
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The Servus Heritage Festival is a three-day festival honouring Alberta's cultural heritage and cultural diversity, which is held annually over the August long weekend in William Hawrelak Park in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. With the Servus Credit Union as title sponsor since 2007 it is currently known as the Servus Heritage Festival.
The Festival is organized annually by the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association since 1976. At that time eleven communities united with the intent to display their cultures by offering traditional cuisine, entertainment, interpretive materials, and crafts to visitors.
Today in 2015 at its 40th annual anniversary the festival includes more than 85 different cultures in over 60 pavilions, where people present their cultural roots and local and national communities. The tents feature food, entertainment, artwork and crafts, clothing, and teach visitors about various cultures with displays including photos, paraphernalia, and stories.
The family-friendly and alcohol-free event offers free admission to its visitors, and gives each pavilion the opportunity to offer independently a sampling of foods, entertainment, arts and crafts, and customs. Entertainment starts on half and full hours for the pavilions, which share stage time throughout the day. The organizers and patrons of the festival encourage visitors for donations to the local food bank.
The park area at William Hawrelak Park offers no public parking (except bicycles) during the festival, but is connected well to the City of Edmonton Transit through exclusive Park'n'Ride services. The park is open throughout the day between 5am-11pm. During the time of the festival visitors are asked to leave their dogs at home.
The Servus Heritage Festival draws a respectable attendance with an estimated 382,000 people in 2015, 360,000-380,000 people in 2014, and 380,000–410,000 people in 2013. It is organized on a budget of about $500,000 per event. The number of pavilions and represented cultures at the festival have been growing over the years, with new representations for Haiti, Rwanda, Lebanon, Morocco and South Sudan in 2015.
The festival relies on volunteers to staff the three-day event. Volunteers help with 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.
Pavilions sell culturally representative foods and drink at a nominal fee and offer entertainment, displays, and arts and crafts at no charge. A Heritage History tent in the centre of the park celebrates the event’s past featuring a visual look back over past festivals.
Presentation of Heritage and Culture
The Servus Heritage Festival is providing new opportunities for local communities and their organizations to present individual ethnic roots, culture, and heritage to a broader audience. In 2015 85 different cultures have used this opportunity to be part of this display.
Behind this effort are the many people and volunteers, who prepare themselves and their display for the annual event. During this undertaking the culture and heritage as it is known by the older generation is passed down to the younger one. During the 40 years of the festival a number of forms of heritage presentation are commonly used, with ethnic food preparation leading the way.
But beside the culinary heritage visitors of the festival are in to experience culture in other ways, such as music and dance performances on the many stages of the festival, traditional clothes and costumes worn by participants and artists or otherwise displayed, and the presentation of specific items and objects originating from different heritages or produced in traditional ways showcasing a step in history or available as merchandise in one of the many tents.
Further participants use specific forms of presentation to give visitors of the festival an insight to their origin places and historic development. Large printed photos and texts on display, point of interests e.g. in form of video and multi-media presentations, re-enactments like e.g. the Welsh Revolt initiated by the St. David’s Welsh (Wales) pavilion at Heritage Days 2015, and for the first time in 2015 in form of a magazine in special edition distributed by the Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta (BHESA) to interested visitors enrich the cultural experience.
The Servus Heritage Festival, the magazine Edmonton Bichitra, and the Bangladeshi community, which is part of the festival since 1996, have received special recognition from the Canadian Government with messages from the Rt. Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and Rt. Hon Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, and others. David Johnston about the festival: "... This important festival brings together over 85 cultural communities from around the world, reflecting Canada's multicultural mosaic with its remarkable variety of rich and distinct traditions, customs and languages. ... By taking part in the festivities, we can all help to build the smarter, more caring nation of which we dream. ..."
Inclusion of charitable efforts
The event is a major fundraiser for the food bank in the city of Edmonton. At the festival nonperishable food and cash donations from visitors are collected on site. As per the Edmonton Heritage Festival Organization, donations between 1984 and 2013 measured over 3.1 million pounds of food, with currently a yearly contribution of about 50,000 kilograms.
In an additional effort the festival organization asks their patrons and visitors to donate unused food tickets, which are then turned into money. In 2014 the converted food tickets alone raised more than $50,000 for the food bank. An additional $50,000 in monetary donations were raised.
The Edmonton Heritage Festival Organization has and is continuing to help develop and upgrade Hawrelak Park and its infrastructure. The creation of pavilions, equipment of water- and electrical hook-ups, upgrades to the electrical systems and other improvements are shared with other events featured in the park.
The festival's official mission is "to 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."
In 1974 the Government of Alberta, acting through the 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.
On June 6, 1974, the first Monday in August became "Heritage Day", "a showcase for displaying Alberta’s cultural diversity.". The first Heritage Day celebrations were held in Fort Edmonton Park in 1974 and 1975, and included a multicultural concert with performers from several ethnic communities.
In 1976 the Edmonton Heritage Festival took its current form. 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, the 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. This led to the creation of the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association in December 1976.
The attendance of the festival has increased from 20,000 people 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 320,000 to 340,000 patrons who were in attendance during the 2011 Festival.
The July 31, 1986 issue of the Edmonton Journal 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 selects a special theme phrase to lend a unique element each year. The theme serves to convey the festival’s purpose and excitement as well as to encourage people to attend and join the festivities.
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 Party!
- 2013: Come ENJOY
- 2014: Come Savour
- 2015: Come for the fun, we're 40!
Festival Prince and Princess
Every year the Servus Heritage Festival appoints 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 Servus 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.
In 2015, the festival princess has been Kaylie Murangwa, 7, from Rwanda, and the festival prince Matthew Go, 11, from the Philippines.
The 1987 festival theme was "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.
The Servus Heritage Festival event has become the single largest annual food drive for the Edmonton Food Bank. In 1985, the Food Bank received 200,000 cans of food from patrons onsite as well as through donations dropped off at Edmonton's fire halls. In average, approximately 50,000 kilograms of food is collected at each festival.
CTV Heritage Hero Award
In 2011 the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association partnered with CTV to present the inaugural CTV Citizen of the Year Award, "a new award that recognizes those who promote cultural diversity in Edmonton."
Past recipients included Ian Mathieson in 2013, 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 2014 the CTV Citizen of the Year Award has been re-branded to CTV Heritage Hero Award, which was given to Nazima Sohni Uppal.
Awards and Recognition
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:
|Best Full Length TV Program (national)||Gold|
|Best Organizational Website||Bronze|
|Best Event Program (interior four more colors)||Silver|
|Best Event/Organization Newsletter||Bronze|
|Best Sponsor Solicitation Video||Gold|
|Best Event/Program within an Event to Benefit a Charity||Gold|
|Best Press/Media Kit||Silver|
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- as a result of the Edmonton Heritage Festival's support of The Edmonton Food Bank
- Official website Servus Heritage Festival