Vancouver’s blossoming cherry trees are “the gift that keeps on giving.” In 1930, the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama presented the city of Vancouver with 500 cherry trees to honour Canadian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who fought in World War.
Almost a century later, Vancouver boasts one of the largest collections of cherry blossom trees in the world outside of Japan—43,000 and counting! From late March until the beginning of May, the bright pink and white blossoms form a veritable tunnel of colour before swirling and falling to the ground like confetti at weddings.
In Japan and indeed throughout the world, the seasonal beauty of cherry blossom has inspired poets and artists—to say nothing of Instagram influencers and amateur photographers—for centuries.
Thanks to Linda Poole, we’ve had a Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate this annual spring rite since 2005. Poole, a Vancouver native, had been living abroad for over a decade and found herself missing the city’s cherry blossoms each spring. A Japanese diplomat told Poole about the “Sakura” blossom festivals held throughout Japan and as an arts professional, immediately knew that Vancouver must host a similar event.
The Festival’s artistic statement champions affordability, accessibility, city-wide programming and increasingly, cultural diversity and providing opportunities for emerging artistic talent. She writes, “My belief in the power of the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossom was the inspiration for an annual spring cultural festival. It drives me in this work, year after year.”
Coastal B.C.’s maritime climate—a combination of mild, wet winters and warm spring sunshine—provide the ideal growing conditions for cherry trees of all types to thrive. After a typically rainy, overcast winter, Vancouverites welcome the return of the cherry blossoms as a true harbinger of spring.
Vancouver’s cherry blossoms don’t all explode at once. While Prunus Serrulata from Japan is the dominant species, the more delicate ornamental cherry tree (Prunus Subhirtella) often blooms earlier. From Stanley Park to Van Dusen Gardens to the UBC campus (and on dozens of residential streets), hundreds of different “cultivars” have been selectively bred to provide different petal colours, shapes and sizes.
Here are five ways to enjoy the 2023 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival which runs at various locations from April 1 – 23.
Love taking pictures? Make sure to tag @vancherryblossomfest.
Bring Food to The Big Picnic: Over 100 cherry trees were donated to the city of Vancouver by former lieutenant-governor Dr. David Lam to beautify the False Creek North park that was named in his honour. The Big Picnic is the kickoff event this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, taking place on April 1 from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. The day starts with a special tree dedication ceremony featuring representatives from Vancouver’s three Host Nations of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh as well as delegates from the Japanese Consulate.
Write haiku, and your poem could be read aloud: The deceptively simple form of Japanese poetry known as ‘haiku’ – three line “story poems” — date back to the fifteenth century. A haiku competition, or invitational, has been a part of the Festival since its inception in 2006. Poets from over 40 countries have submitted 16,000 entries. Submissions are judged by a committee of acclaimed haiku poets in six different awards categories: Best Vancouver, B.C., Canada, USA, International, and Best Youth as well as Sakura Awards and Honourable Mentions. Winners will have their poems read aloud at the Big Picnic and Sakura Days and be honoured at a special Haiku Exhibition which features commissioned pieces by Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh artists.
Download the VCBF’s Cherry Blossom map: Stanley Park, UBC and David Lam Park aren’t the only places to see the hundreds of cherry cultivars. Literally hundreds of residential streets throughout Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore come to life each spring and have been extensively catalogued on the Blossom Map on the Cherry Blossom Festival website. Bookmark the “Blooming Now” and “Blossom Map” pages to find out where the action is.
Attend Sakura Days at Van Dusen Gardens: Sakura Days celebrates the special ongoing relationship between Vancouver and Japan and takes place at Van Dusen Gardens from April 14-15. Featuring tea ceremony rituals, Taiko drumming, bonsai growing displays (with food available from some of Vancouver’s most highly-rated food trucks), Sakura Days is the VCBF’s signature event.
Talk to the Trees: Led by local botanical experts and esteemed writers, Tree Talks and Tree Walks take place at several different outdoor venues across the city including UBC, Van Dusen Gardens and in Kitsilano. These highly popular walking tours are free of charge but require pre-event registration.