Not just Halloween: How two Vancouver events are celebrating the dead differently this weekend

·3 min read
An altar is pictured during LatinCouver's Altar de Muertos at Granville Island in Vancouver. The altar is one of two events seeking to honour the dead in a different way on Halloween weekend. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
An altar is pictured during LatinCouver's Altar de Muertos at Granville Island in Vancouver. The altar is one of two events seeking to honour the dead in a different way on Halloween weekend. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

It's not only pumpkins, candy and spooky music at this time of year — it's also the traditional time for honouring the dead for many cultures.

Two different events in Vancouver this weekend invite people to honour past traditions and create some new ones of their own. All Souls festival takes place in Mountain View Cemetery until Nov. 1, while Latincouver's Altar de Muertos is located at Ocean Art Works on Granville Island this weekend until Nov. 2.

Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, spoke to organizers of both events ahead of the weekend about why they want to celebrate this time of year differently.

All Souls is in its 17th year, and began when Paula Jardine was with the now defunct arts collective Public Dreams.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

They were producing another Vancouver Halloween staple at the time, the Parade of Lost Souls. She and fellow artist Marino Szijarto made a shrine to honour their ancestors as part of the parade.

"That's when we realized that it wasn't really an art piece, but we'd created a sacred space. Then my dad died on Halloween, and it felt like an invitation to go deeper into this time of year because it's personal," Jardine said.

"We all still have that feeling — to surround our memories with beauty and to acknowledge the passing of people."

The pair worked with Mountain View Cemetery to create All Souls as a week-long public event. It includes artists' shrines honouring their cultural or personal tributes and a mourners' tea where participants gather to create their own memorials.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

There are also live music performances every evening the festival is on, as well as in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday.

A visit to All Souls is a welcome respite to the carnival atmosphere of Halloween. The atmosphere is quiet and reflective. Visitors walk through the entrance to the cemetery, lit by candles in mason jars and then visit the shrines that are located in the central part of the cemetery.

"[We have] little glowing shrines in different parts of the cemetery that have grown over the years from people's own needs and regard," Jardine said.

All Souls also features a triptych, a three-panelled wooden display where visitors are encouraged to write messages to their loved ones throughout the event.

Jardine and her team want to create an atmosphere that embodies "coming together as a community to support each other."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Day of the Dead on Granville Island

Meanwhile, on Granville Island, the Altar de Muertos reflects more of Latin America's traditions for Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. Part of Latincouver's celebration of Latin American Heritage Month, the altar was created by artists celebrating the practices of countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Peru.

Latincouver's Paloma Morales pointed out that Day of the Dead is not a Mexican version of Halloween. The tradition of commemorating the dead dates back to pre-Hispanic Indigenous times hundreds of years ago.

In Mexico, the day has been protected by UNESCO as a cultural practice important to humanity.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"The altar represents the Aztec warriors. I'm talking about 500 years ago when Spaniards came to America," Morales said.

She says that celebrations now are a blend of Aztec culture, Christianity and Catholicism.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"[Día de Muertos] is a celebration of life, the life of our people that are no longer with us. We celebrate life for us."

Visitors to Granville Island can see the altar this weekend, where there will also be a pop-up market and musicians. On Nov. 2, the final procession will include a community gathering with Mexican food, hot chocolate and music.

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