Vancouver, A City That Shows How Multiculturalism Is Done

I am in a barber-shop to get a shave. Speaking with the owner, I find out he is originally from Fiji. I am at a playground, with Ayan, who plays with a girl his age. I start speaking with her father, who tells me that he came from Morocco about 10 years ago. My wife is at a drop-in center for parents and children, where she befriends a woman, who is there with her son. Her slavic accent discloses her – she is from Serbia. One of the assistants working in that center is from Argentina. The other one from Poland. This isn’t a promotional UN campaign. These are typical scenes from a daily life, here in Vancouver.

Wherever we go, we see the place through the glasses of our own past experience. And so, as someone who was born in Russia and grew up in Israel (societies with a single dominant culture), this diversity completely stands out for me. And it’s not just the amount of different ethnic and religious groups living here. The variety itself isn’t enough to make a multicultural society. It’s the celebration of different origins, and tolerance of differences in general, that counts. And if there is one thing that Vancouver loves doing, it’s celebrating diversity.


What do Muslim women wearing hijabs, Sikh men in turbans, gay couples, stoners on rollerblades, homeless people on the street, tattooed goths and bearded hipsters have in common? That you’ll meet all of them on the streets of Vancouver, and they’ll be similarly courteous, friendly and proud of their distinct identity.

Sikh man in Stanley park
A Sikh man enjoying the views of the North Shore
Muslim women taking a walk in Stanley park
Muslim women taking a walk in Stanley park


Street festivals is a great way to do some people-watching here.

Car-free day celebration on Main street
Car-free day celebration on Main street
Chinese-Canadian boys promoting Canada's cadets program during the Italian day festival
Chinese-Canadian boys promoting Canada’s cadets program during the Italian day festival
West coast hippies contribute to Vancouver’s peace & love vibe
Naked bike ride, under the motto "less gas, more ass"
Naked bike ride, under the motto “less gas, more ass”


Colouring your hair is a long-respected tradition of those who want to show that they are different.

Davie street, Vancouver’s village
Commercial drive
Commercial drive
English bay beach


And if you aren’t going to colour your hair purple, at least wear something colourful, preferably eco-friendly and fair-trade.


A girl on rollerblades lighting a joint on Commercial drive


Vancouver has the highest rate of interracial marriages in Canada – almost 10% of all unions.

Interracial couple
Stanley park
Stanley park


In Vancouver, just as in Toronto, you feel that the word “minority” loses it’s usual meaning. When more than 50% of the population doesn’t speak English as the first language, there is no “majority”, and in a way, everyone belongs to a minority.



It’s immediately noticeable that immigrants here aren’t expected to immerse in the mainstream culture, on the expense of their own. On the contrary, celebrating your own culture is welcomed.

30 years to Croatian community
Croatian community celebrates 30 years of activity in Vancouver with 3 days festival

Go to a local supermarket, and you’ll see a little shrine set up by its Chinese owners. Go out to a park, and you’ll meet Filipino Canadians celebrating Philippines independence day.

Italian Day on the Drive, another such celebration, is a large street festival of Italian culture. Commercial Drive street, full of ethnic restaurants, clubs, small grocery shops and bakeries, an epicenter of Vancouver’s cultural fusion, is closed for cars for the whole day, giving room to opera singing, traditional dances, and lots and lots of street food stalls.

Italian on the Drive
View on Commercial Drive with the unmistakably Vancouverite SkyTrain and mountains


Traditional dances in Grandview park

fish stall on the Itlaian day on the drive

The same weekend, Slavic day celebration in the Russian Palme theater is a humble and somewhat comical occasion, with Kalinka singing and Matryoshka dolls for sale representing the Russian culture.




Every community here has its own shops, community centers, schools and festivals.

Japanese supermarket next to Korean mart on Broadway
Japanese supermarket next to a Korean mart on Broadway avenue
Polish Friendship Society on Fraser street
Polish Friendship Society on Fraser street
Hungarian Community Center on Kingsway
Hungarian Community Center on Kingsway
Chinese Cultural Center
Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown

More importantly, these venues, events and programs aren’t just for their own people – a visible effort is made to welcome everyone, without exclusion. The Jewish community center of Vancouver is a case in point. Far from being an exclusive Jewish-Israeli club, it welcomes everyone to use its facilities and participate in its programs.

As an Israeli, I am so used to having a dominant culture dictating the rules for everyone, that this cultural pluralism feels almost liberating.

Every culture is unique as a snowflake (of course), but here, it’s just as harmless. It has the freedom and society’s blessing to celebrate its heritage, without becoming an enclave of alienated nationalism.



Religious organizations here seem to subscribe to the same multicultural embrace, as the society at large. While some are places of worship used by specific ethnic groups, many are multi-ethnic congregations.

How a church is expected to be a gathering place of your own people, when it calls itself multicultural?
How is a church expected to nurture sectarianism, when it calls itself multicultural?
Bethel International Church on 33rd ave.
This church on 33rd ave. calls itself international, because “our congregation is made up of people who come from all around the world to live in Canada”
Vietnamese community church
Vietnamese community church
Chinatown's "Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada" is apparently the place to come, if your soul is in a dire need of fortune telling
Chinatown’s “Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada” is apparently the place to come, if your soul requires the healing powers of incense lighting and fortune telling
Bahá’ís, who see humanity "as a single people who live in a shared world and a one common destiny", must feel at home in Vancouver.
Bahá’ís, who see humanity “as a single people who live in a shared world with a common destiny”, must feel at home in Vancouver.


Those who are used to the comfort of a mind-numbing immersion in their own dominant culture may find Vancouver disorienting. For everyone else, Vancouver’s multiplicity of cultures is nothing short of liberating.

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