Cloverdale streets were decked out with Christmas lights, crammed with people and covered in decorated semi tractor-trailers and trucks on Dec. 6 at Hawthorne Square.
The Santaâ€™s Parade of Lights, put on by the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association (BIA) in partnership with the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, is one of five annual events held in the area to maintain Cloverdaleâ€™s historic small-town identity and strengthen the sense of community.
The Cloverdale BIA was expecting a crowd of 7,000 people to line the streets for the parade, out of a population of only 55,000 people in the small section of Surrey. The area was once entirely farmland, and is still sustained by blueberry crops, but is now considered a peri-urban community (an area adjoining an urban space), because of its location at the centre of a rapidly growing city.
The growth has caused the Cloverdale BIA to create guidelines and larger-scale plans of action to promote the areaâ€™s historical western identity, which is the foundation for the local economy. Cloverdale does not have any above-ground parking, parking meters or big-box businesses, which helps maintain the small-town culture.
â€œ[Cloverdale] is filling in and growing at an unbelievable rate, unmatched about anywhere in B.C.,â€ said Paul Orazietti, executive director of the Cloverdale BIA.
One way that the BIA is responding to urbanization is by adding a social-responsibility aspect to the parades and festivals. This is the third year that the holiday parade was collecting donations for the Surrey Christmas Bureau and the Surrey Food Bank, with a goal of collecting $5,000 and two-and-a-half tons of food for the food bank.
â€œCharity has taken a much higher profile,â€ said Orazietti, adding that homelessness is a growing problem in Cloverdale. At one point, over 50 people were living in the town centre, he said.
The events serve to bring locals together and promote opportunities to give back, but they also exemplify Cloverdaleâ€™s identity to nonresidents.
Stores are decorated, businesses are welcoming â€“ itâ€™s all part of a plan to encourage outsiders to feel like they are a part of the community, too.
Economically, Cloverdale is challenged by its avoidance of large stores such as Safeway, whose nearest location is in Langley. But small-town values have led the BIA to resist the introduction of such businesses, preferring to support local businesses instead. These steps aim to protect the communityâ€™s assets while events build sustainability, he said.
Cloverdale is on a path that may head towards transformed economy and increased symbolism, as small-town community features become replaced with modern infrastructure, according to Jacqueline Mulcahy, member of the Maple Ridge Community Heritage Commission and a post-graduate urban-studies student at Simon Fraser University.
The community may find itself using street signage and banner programs as a reminder of the original identity, as was done in North Vancouver, if the rapid population growth continues, said Mulcahy.
â€œItâ€™s impossible for communities to resist [change],â€ she said. “A sense of identity is necessary in any community.
â€œYou have to have some means of a discourse,â€ Mulcahy said. â€œIf you donâ€™t have a sense of collective identity, itâ€™s very difficult to have political engagement and itâ€™s difficult to have a consensus.â€
Individuals in the area are also realizing that parades and festivals are a good way to help the younger generation plug into Cloverdaleâ€™s traditional values and history. Rick Hughes, the vice-president of Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School, is trying to encourage youth to get involved in organizing parades, sports camps and other local events.
â€œItâ€™s up to my generation to make sure that weâ€™re passing all this into succeeding generations,â€ said Hughes. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of young folks out there that think, â€˜Well, Iâ€™ll do it if thereâ€™s an immediate payoffâ€™ instead of â€˜Iâ€™ll do it if itâ€™s helping somebody out.â€™â€
Hughes has lived in Cloverdale his entire life, and has helped organize parades, the rodeo and the creation of Surrey Museum over the last half-century. When he was a child, all of his neighbours knew each other, but that is not the case anymore, though there are still some core families that remain. He welcomes different ideas and lifestyles, but added, â€œItâ€™s important to remember the things that got you where you are.â€
Snow hasn’t fallen on Metro Vancouver yet this winter, but it won’t be long from now if Gail Suderman has her way with the season.
For the last nine years, Suderman, the director of voice and choral studies at Kwantlen’s Langley campus, has spent most of her time teaching Kwantlen students to sing classical music.
But in her spare time, she indulges in her love of more contemporary music, helming the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir, one of only four community choirs devoted to singing gospel music in Vancouver.
Every year, Suderman and the choir perform Christmas carols and pop music favorites at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver for two nights before Christmas to get people in the spirit of the holidays.
She recalls that the choir ended last year’s show just as Vancouver’s picturesque white Christmas began.
“The memories that particularly stick in our mind are when snow is involved,”said Suderman. “The last night [last year] right as people were walking out, the snow started falling. It just added to that Christmas energy, that spirit of it.”
The concerts usually end up selling out every year and are wildly popular with Vancouverites looking for a unique musical experience around the holiday, said Suderman.
This year, the choir will perform its Glory of Christmas concerts for two sold-out nights on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 at the cathedral. There will be another performance during the afternoon of Dec. 13 at the Frasierview Church in Richmond.
Suderman, a classically trained singer, and her colleague Marcus Mosely, started the Good Noise Choir in 2004 out of a mutual love for the energy and celebratory spirit of gospel. After doing some workshops with people in the community and being inundated with requests to keep going, she held auditions and did the first Christmas concert at the Christ Church Cathedral that December.
“It took off just like wildfire, in terms of people being excited about it and people coming out to concerts,”said Suderman.
Since its debut, the choir has grown from 42 to 75 members and includes people of all ages and walks of life. Some people come from as far as Abbotsford to train with the choir throughout the year. Members have to audition to join the choir, but the choir is non-denominational, which makes it open to anyone in the Lower Mainland who wants to sing.
“It’s a bit of a microcosm of what real life is like,” said Suderman. “It’s a great example of this diverse group of people coming together, creating this sort of unified sound through the singing. It has a really good energy.”
When not performing Christmas carols, the choir performs at events such as the Vancouver Folk Festival and has its own concert series that runs throughout the year at Christ Cathedral Church. Years of hard work paid off recently, said Suderman, when the group got a chance to perform for superstar record producer David Foster, who produces albums for the likes of Celine Dione and Michael Buble.
Suderman admits that the Good Noise choir enjoys popularity in the Lower Mainland, but that there isn’t as much of a culture around gospel music in Vancouver as there as there is in the United States, where the music has ethnic and cultural roots in African-American culture.
Vancouver is home to more classical and church-based choirs, but only a few popular music, or contemporary music choirs, the category that she feels Good Noise belongs to, said Suderman.
“It’s not that we feel isolated in terms of the choir itself,”said Suderman. “We are a little bit unique. I wouldn’t say that people are surprised that there are gospel choirs in Vancouver area. Because it’s unique, people take an interest in it. People say. ‘Ah, this is kind of different, let’s check it out.’”
This year, Suderman has invited three Lower Mainland music industry mainstays to join the choir for the holiday rejoicing. Kate Hammett-Vaughn, Karin Plato and Jennifer Scott, known as the Jazz Divas, will join the choir onstage to celebrate the holiday spirit.
Gospel is a music of celebration, which makes the Christmas holidays the perfect time for the Good Noise choir to rile up audiences and help Canadians shake off their reputation for being subdued at concerts.
“They love it,” Suderman said of the audience that shows up for the Christmas concerts. “It’s different than if you went to a classical concert, where you would sit quietly and be polite. For these [Christmas concerts], clapping along, singing along, it’s all part of it. It’s audience participation and people love, love that aspect.”
The â€œElves Wantedâ€ posters were hung on Kwantlenâ€™s Richmond campus bulletin boards with care, in hopes that busy students would have a moment to spare.
And two Kwantlen elves did turn up to help the Richmond Sunset Rotary Club decorate Christmas trees at Richmond City Hall last week for the eighth annual Winter Wonderland put on by the club. Sarah Ramli, 18, who is studying criminology at Kwantlen, was one of them. The other remains anonymous.
Ramli says she is broadening her horizons, as she usually decorates a Christmas tree at the city hall in Delta home, where she lives, because, â€œI just love to volunteer and itâ€™s Christmas too, so you canâ€™t beat it.â€
Last week, Ramli she dragged her boyfriend to Richmond city hall where they decorated a tree of red, green and gold. Ramli said it didnâ€™t take too much time out of their schedules, and she hopes someone will get the benefit of their work. Money raised when the trees are auctioned goes to the Richmond Womenâ€™s Resource Centre or the Christmas Fund.
â€œYou just feel good about doing something and it’s like you are actually helping a greater good and thereâ€™s just that satisfaction from doing something that you just can’t describe,â€ she said.
This is the first year only seven of the Christmas trees are up for auction, according to Linda Coyle, president of the Rotary club, because there was a lack of sponsors this year. â€œI think the economy has a lot to do with it,â€ said Coyle.
Kwantlen chose not to sponsor a tree this year, but has done so in the past. â€œI was really disappointed that Kwantlen didnâ€™t sponsor a tree, because I thought it would have been a great profile,â€ Coyle said.
She says it was the first year Kwantlen students individually came to help, which was fantastic.
Winter Wonderland kicked off at Richmondâ€™s City Hall on Nov. 29, with a lighting of the cityâ€™s big Christmas tree by the mayor. Free concerts will be held every Saturday from now until Christmas and those who attend are asked to take and donate a non-perishable food item.