British Columbia

First African Festival in Vancouver to tackle race and culture

First African Festival in Vancouver to tackle race and culture

Organizers using festival as tool to mobilize displaced African communities

Kayode Fatoba is the artistic director of the African Descent Festival. He says the area behind him, across the street from the Via Rail Station, was once a hub for the African community. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Vancouver's very first African Descent festival launched in Thornton Park Friday. Organizers hope to reclaim a once-thriving Black community in the city. 

Jane Wanjiru is originally from Kenya. She  now lives in Vancouver but sometimes struggles to feel like she's part of a community. 

Jane Wanirju wants African community members who attend the first African Descent Festival to feel less alone in Vancouver. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

"In Vancouver, there really isn't a Black or African community. We just kind of all walk by ourselves," Wanirju said.

She says this festival is an exciting opportunity to express and connect with African Vancouverites. 

"I hope to gain a connection and just a feeling that we are really not alone, " she said.

Organizers say this is more than a just a festival, but a continuum of Black history making in the city.

Kayode Fatoba is the artistic director of the festival. 

"This is more of a movement. It's a movement that is part of a century-old movement," Fatoba said.  

Hogan's Alley, 1958 (City of Vancouver Archives)

He says Thornton Park, which is across the street from the Via Rail Station, and the surrounding area was once a hub for the African community.

"Hogan's Alley was sort of  the first settlement of African Americans who came during the gold rush,"  he said.

That alley is the unofficial name for Park Lane, a T shaped block that ran from Main and Jackson Street in between Prior and Union Streets.

The inaugural African Descent Festival begins Friday and goes on until Saturday. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Most of Hogan's Alley was destroyed before 1970 during the construction of the Georgia Viaduct.

Fatoba says the community living there fought for their rights, better living conditions and even built a church. He says the African community in Vancouver needs to reclaim a physical space again.

He noted that in Vancouver, there is Chinatown, Little Italy, The Punjabi Market area and many other neighbourhoods that reflect specific cultures, but says one doesn't exist for the African community, making it hard to get a foothold economically. 

"When you are looking at Vancouver where I am a Black person, and I'm living in an Indian community and want to start a business ... the chances of me having a very successful business in that community requires a lot of effort," Fatoba said.

Jane Wanjiru is from Kenya but making a community in Vancouver. She says the African Descent Festival is giving African-Canadians a chance to build connections and pride. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

He and others hope the African Descent Festival will be a tipping point for those trying to build identity and a stronger presence in Vancouver. 

The festival wraps up on Saturday.