Home 2019

A huge THANK YOU to Everyone involved in the 2019 Annual DTES Heart of the City Festival! It was an honour and privilege to work with hundreds of local residents and artists sharing the stories, hopes, and dreams of our community. Next year's 17th Annual DTES Heart of the City Festival, with the theme This Gives Us Strength, takes place Wednesday October 28 to Sunday November 8, 2020. More details to come this summer.

Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival
Wednesday October 30 to Sunday November 10, 2019

Over 100 events at over 40 venues throughout the Downtown Eastside

The 16th annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is twelve days of music, stories, theatre, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, dance, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibits, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks. This year’s theme, Holding the Light, has emerged from the compelling need of DTES-involved artists and residents to illuminate the vitality and relevance of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories.

The mandate of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festivalis to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The festival involves a wide range of professional, community, emerging and student artists and lovers of the arts. Over 1,000 local artists and Downtown Eastside residents participated in last year’s Festival.

Many events are free or by suggested donation.

Top Festival Picks

With more than 100 events scheduled over 12 days at over 40 locations throughout the Downtown Eastside, the 16thAnnual DTES Heart of the City Festival (October 30 – November 10, 2019) has a cornucopia of cultural events and artistic activities to attend, participate in, and enjoy. Here are thirteen exciting Top Festival Picks. 

1. Sis Ne’ Bi-Yïz: Mother Bear Speaks A play written and performed by Taninli Wright (Wet'suwet'en) about her remarkable Messenger of Hope Walk. Inspired by the true story of this emerging artist who walked 1,600 km across British Columbia to give voice to First Nations children and other marginalized youth. Developed in collaboration with Laura Barron, Jason CliftJulie McIsaac and Jessica Schacht. Produced by Instruments of Change.

Wednesday Oct 30, 7:30pm; matinee Friday Nov 1, 3pm; Saturday Nov 2, 8pm; matinee Sunday Nov 3, 3pm.
Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova. $20/15 (inc. s/c + GST).
Tickets at door or advance sales: 604.689.0926

2. Tale of the Eastside Lantern The Festival is thrilled to partner on this workshop presentation of scenes and songs from a new hybrid Chinese Rock Opera performed in English and Cantonese with actors, Chinese Opera performers, and the Son of James Band. “In the streets and shops of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Jimmy wrestles with his personal demons and sets out to solve a mystery that is guarded by Chinese Opera spirits of the underworld. Jimmy is led by the sounds of rock music and motivated by the oldest feeling in the world...love.” Written and composed by Shon Wong and directed by Andy Toth. Produced by Vancouver Cantonese Opera and Son of James Band in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre.

Thursday Oct 31, 8pm
CBC Studio 700, 700 Hamilton
Tickets $15 at the door, or ONLINE

3. ūtszan This passionate story about language and how it informs identity, follows the journey of a woman and her quest to reclaim her language. In the process, she uncovers Indigenous knowledge, humour, strength and resilience. ūtszan (to make things better) is written and performed by Yvonne Wallace (Lilwat) and directed by Jefferson Guzman.

Thursday Oct 31, 7:30pm; Friday Nov 1, 8pm; matinee Saturday Nov 2, 3pm. Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova. $20/15 (inc. s/c + GST).
Tickets at door or advance sales: 604.689.0926

4. Home, Homelessness and the Culture In-Between A week-long residency exploring the challenges and hopes experienced by residents of Single-Room-Occupancy hotels and the Downtown Eastside. This project, led by Renae Morriseau with Sophie Merasty, features an array of activities including visual art, facilitated discussions, ceremony and theatre. Highlights include: SRO by Middle of the Sky (aka Brenda Prince), a new play with a fascinating style that tells the story of an Indigenous woman trapped in a DTES SRO and her efforts to escape from her circumstances; and the SRO – Indigenous Women’s Project, which features women sharing stories, performances and vignettes that honour their lived experience of 'home' – within themselves and within the DTES. Produced in partnership with Urban Ink Productions.

Thursday Oct 31 to Wednesday November 6
InterUrban Gallery
1 E. Hastings, entrance on Carrall
By donation at the door
Specific event details here

5. Pulling Together Canoe Landing Join the Festival, the Vancouver Police Museum and the Pulling Together Canoe Society at Crab Park beach for a mini-landing of canoes by three canoe families. The canoes will be welcomed in ceremony, and then the paddlers and guests will journey on land to the Police Museum and the exhibition “Healing Waters”: an exploration of how communities heal through connecting to cultural practice. This landing, in honour of the inaugural Pulling Together canoe journey in 2001, launches a year of story gathering and history sharing in preparation for the twentieth Anniversary celebration of the Pulling Together Society at next year’s 2020 Heart of the City Festival.

Saturday Nov 2, 11am
Crab Park, north foot of Main. Free

6. Speaking in Tongues Join guests Woody Morrison, David NgGrace Eiko Thomson, and Dalannah Gail Bowen in a conversation that explores mother tongues and how their interactions can give birth to hybrid languages such as Japanese Pidgin, a language unique to the west coast of Canada. This conversation is part of “Homing Pidgin”, an interactive installation by Haruko Okano that explores how language is a living and historical component of all cultures.

Saturday Nov 2, 1pm
Centre A, #205 - 268 Keefer. Free

7. Spotlight on the East End A special three-concert music series that profiles an exciting line-up of local POC, Indigenous and marginalized emerging and professional musicians. The 2019 Festival Artist-in-Residence Khari Wendell McClelland (The Sojourners/Freedom Singer) is the Curator. Featured musicians include Tonye Aganaba, Francis Arevalo and Shannon Bauman, among many more!

Saturday Nov 2, 7:30pm
The Heatley, 696 E. Hastings. Free
w/ Khari McClelland, Shannon Bauman, Tanye Akanaba, Alfredo Flores

Thursday Nov 7, 8pm, Russian Hall, 600 Campbell
$20/15. Tickets at door or ONLINE
w/ Chelsea Johnson, Edzi’u, Francis Arevalo, Desirée Dawson

Saturday Nov 9, 8pm, Tight Club, 261 Union
$20/15. Tickets at door or ONLINE
w/ Haisla with Nasty, Brutish and Short, Kimmortal & Megan & Estiqw, JB the First Lady, Missy D

See daily schedule or program guide for details 

8. Ukrainian Hall Community Concert & Supper Enjoy a Sunday afternoon at the east-end’s historic Ukrainian Hall with lively choral and orchestral music, exciting dance, and exquisite costumes, followed by a traditional supper. This annual favourite, produced with the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, features the Hall’s own Barvinok Choir, Vancouver Folk Ensemble and the award-winning Dovbush Dancers. Special guests this year include, among others, Arno Kamolika, a Vancouver-based Bharatanatyam dance artist, and Vostok (The East), an East Vancouver based vocal trio specializing in music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Immediately following the concert is the always-delicious sit-down Ukrainian Supper. The best full meal and concert deal in Vancouver!

Sunday Nov 3, concert 3pm, supper follows
Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender. $25
For information contact 604.254.3436

9. Close Connections Three powerhouse writers read and reflect on their close connections to Vancouver’s historic East End, Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside: Amber Dawn, recipient of the Lambda Literary Award and the Vancouver Book Award; Jen Sookfong Lee, teacher, popular CBC broadcaster, and writer of The End is East and Chinese New Year: A Celebration for Everyone; and Cecily Nicholson, recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (2015) and the Governor General's Award for English-language poetry (2018). Host: Khari McClelland.

Wednesday Nov 6, 7pm
Massy Books, 229 E. Georgia. Free

10. Two Documentaries: Arising From the Downtown Eastside

The Story Behind Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way (25’) In 2018, Vancouver Moving Theatre, in a collaboration led by Indigenous artists, knowledge-keepers and partners across the land, toured Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way to cities and communities across Canada. This play and cultural encounter – created in the Downtown Eastside by co-writers Rosemary Georgeson, Renae Morriseau and Savannah Walling, with contributions from the cast, knowledge-keepers and partnering communities – brought to life the story of Old One and his heartbreaking and hilarious journey to reconcile with himself, his family and community. Local filmmaker Jessica Hallenbeck (Lantern Films) has created an exquisite short film that traces the national tour, cultural practices across the land, and the reflections of participating actors, youth and elders.

Saturday Nov 9, 7pm
Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

Survivors Totem Pole (24’) In 2016, the Survivors Totem Pole was carved by Downtown Eastside resident and activist Skundaal Bernie Williams, and then raised at Pigeon Park in a powerful pole raising and potlatch witnessing ceremony attended by over 1,000 residents, Elders and VIPs. This moving film, by filmmaker Susanne Tabata, follows the extraordinary community-led journey to create and raise a monument to survivors: a tribute to the enduring strength, resistance, persistence and inclusion of the Downtown Eastside community. Following the film presentation Susanne Tabata, Skundaal Bernie Williams, and guests from the Sacred Circle Society will speak.

Saturday Nov 9, 8pm
Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

11. Opening Doors – Vancouver’s East End 2019 A dramatization based on Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter’s extraordinary local legend-of-a-book Opening Doors first published in 1979. This workshop presentation features the oral history and lived experience of Indigenous and settler women of diverse cultural backgrounds who lived, worked and raised families in the vibrant and historic Vancouver East End. Directed by Donna Spencer. Co-produced by the Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre.

Wednesday Nov 6, Thursday Nov 7, 7:30pm;
Friday Nov 8, Saturday Nov 9, 8pm;
matinee Saturday Nov 9, 3pm.
Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova
$20/15 (inc. s/c + GST) / Thursday Nov 7 – PWYC
Tickets at door or advance sales: 604.689.0926

12. Irreparable Harm? The newly-formed Sinister Sisters Ensemble is composed of activists and theatre folk, young and old, First Nations and settlers, many of whom were arrested in the protests against the twining of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Using videos, transcripts of the court proceedings, and statements that were read in the courtroom, this production shines a light on the strengths and weaknesses of our current justice system.

Friday Nov 8, 3pm
Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free

13. Carnegie Jazz Band & Special Guests The Festival closes with an exciting afternoon of hot jazz featuring special guest Tom Pickett singing a selection of original songs written for Downtown Eastside music and theatre productions, along with popular jazz standards heard in the clubs and streets of Vancouver’s historic East End. Joining the Carnegie Jazz Band, led by multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Brad Muirhead, are two of Vancouver’s finest jazz musicians: Hugh Fraser (trombone/piano)and Adrian Smith (trumpet).

Sunday Nov 10, 2pm
Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main. Free


The Heart of the City Festival gratefully acknowledges the financial and in-kind support of our Festival partners and sponsors.

The Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival acknowledges and honours that we live and work on Traditional Coast Salish Lands including the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ) and Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) Nations.