One of Edmonton’s premier summer festivals has returned after a COVID-induced hiatus.
A scaled-back iteration of the Edmonton Heritage Festival kicked off in Hawrelak Park Saturday. Because of the pandemic, capacity at the multicultural celebration is being kept to about half of its normal levels, while the number of pavilions has been capped at about two-thirds of average.
“We’re all ecstatic,” executive director Jim Gibbon said. “It’s a really nice day and we have nice, safe, socially distanced crowds here. The restaurants are busy, but people are staying safe, and everyone’s treating everybody with respect.”
He called planning for this year’s festival “stressful but joyful.”
The Edmonton Heritage Festival launched in 1974 to celebrate multiculturalism. It has since run every year, with the exception of 2020’s COVID-19 related cancellation.
The goal is to promote intercultural exchange and reduce discrimination. The festival’s website cites a 2020 poll which found 60 per cent of respondents believed racism was a serious problem in Canada, up 13 points from 2019. One-third said they had experienced racism in the past year.
“I think it’s the most important festival, maybe in Western Canada,” Gibbon said. “It’s a blessing and it’s important because it’s what Canada is all about.”
The 2021 festival features around 45 pavilions from countries and cultures around the world, including new additions Togo and Dominica. Gibbon said the largest ever event included around 75 pavilions.
“It’s the lowest in a long time,” he said. “We tried to keep the pavilions at two-thirds and visitors at half.”
The event features music, dancing and art but focuses largely on food, with most pavilions offering traditional meals and snacks for a fee.
Around 150,000 advance entry passes are being made available for free for specific time slots on the festival’s website. The festival continues until Sunday.