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Parade of the Lost Souls shows East Vancouver’s soul

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Nothing makes life more whole, more rich and vibrant, than an acknowledgement of death. And what better time to celebrate the living and the dead than November, when our long northern days are being consumed at either end by winter’s impending darkness.

The Parade of Lost Souls did just that, in grand community style, in East Vancouver’s Grandview Park area last weekend. Organized by the Public Dreams Society, the festival relies on 250 volunteers, over 200 artists, and draws thousands of people from the immediate neighbourhood and the greater Vancouver area.

Standing in the park with its view of the downtown skyline, the darkness descends on the city as costumed stilt walkers and bands invite you to follow the torch-lit procession. You begin your journey, shoulder to shoulder with other costumed revellers, through the four zones of the festival. In the White zone on Charles Street, beautiful shrines have been created to honour departed loved ones, to leave messages for them and feel their presence in our lives.

In Latin American countries, as well as many other cultures around the world, November 1st is honoured as the Day of the Dead, when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest and when the recently deceased are said to be able to communicate with us.

"The festival has the essence of that," says Public Dreams Artistic Director Dolly Hopkins, "but the most fascinating thing is the community representation of it. You see Japanese people carrying photos of the dead, people wearing a sheath with no knife in it – an old German tradition – and Belgian and Italian people carrying bread and water."

There are many cultural interpretations, she says, which contribute to this community’s own acknowledgement and celebration of light.

A left turn into a narrow alley leads into the Red zone with its theme of Awaken the Living. Here various characters line the alley or occupy the balconies of the adjacent buildings. One woman laughs hysterically from a balcony while her counterpart on the opposite side wails with endless misery. The raw display of emotion makes your skin crawl, even as you remind yourself that they’re only actors playing a part. A red stilt-walking devil sits curled up on a ledge, trembling as though exhausted or injured. The people beside me approach to see if he’s okay, but he merely stares blankly back at them. We walk on, never quite sure if it was an act or not; our sense of reality shaken from its mores.

By the time we enter the Black Zone to Face our Fears, everything seems real: the bats swooping and dancing in the park, the man delivering a speech from a mail box, the sign that reads Shake Off Dull Sloth.

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