Two pillars of the Downtown Eastside arts community are now members of the Order of Canada. The husband-and-wife team of Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling are executive and artistic directors, respectively, of Vancouver Moving Theatre. It puts on the annual Heart of the City festival.
Heart of the City is a community-driven event that shines a spotlight on Downtown Eastside artists. Last year, the festival featured more than 100 events at more than 40 venues.
Over the past 19 years, Heart of the City has also raised awareness about pressing issues in the neighbourhood, such as harm reduction, homelessness, poverty, and justice for Indigenous and other marginalized people.
Hunter and Walling often centre Indigenous cultural and artistic practices, such as serving as the community ssupporter for the Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey. Produced by Further We Rise Indigenous Arts Collective and led by Nadine Spence (Nlaka’pamux / Secwepemc), it offers a tribute to Indigenous women who travelled from parts of the B.C. Interior to the Downtown Eastside and became grandmothers.
In addition, Hunter and Walling drew tremendous attention to the Survivors Totem Pole created by Haida carver Skundaal (Bernie Williams).
There are many other examples. For instance, Kat Zu’comulwat Norris was Heart of the City’s elder in residence prior to her death in 2022, advising on community protocol. Before becoming ill, Norris served as the Heart of the City elder in residence. She also performed at various times.
In 2021, the Stlenga-lanas Haida clan adopted Hunter and Walling in recognition of their important work as Indigenous allies. As a result, they received the names Nang Gulgaa and hl Gat’saa, respectively.
Heart of the City emerged from a play
The Office of the Governor General declared that Hunter and Walling are being honoured for their visionary, community-engaged arts practice. It noted that this is done “with, for, and about the Downtown Eastside”.
Hunter and Walling met in a non-credit arts program at Simon Fraser University. They created the Terminal City Dance company in 1975 with Karen Jamieson.
The Downtown Eastside Heart of the City festival grew out of a play that Vancouver Moving Theatre co-produced with the Carnegie Community Centre Association in 2003. It included dozens of community members, including Norris. Many participated in future festivals.
Meanwhile, Gov.-Gen. Mary Simon’s office has also announced that a former director of the Carnegie Community Centre, Donald MacPherson, is also a new member of the Order of Canada.
MacPherson, the director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, received this honour for his “long-time advocacy of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches to drug policy reform”.