Canada 150 food: MELA! Festivals serves up melting pot of cultural cuisine

June 28, 2017

By Aleesha Harris, Vancouver Sun |

Canada has long been praised for its “melting pot” of different cultures. But we don’t always get the opportunity to explore the vast influences that make up the mix.

Mashood Max Ali and Ravi Singh wanted to change that — even if for only a day — and they decided Canada Day would be the perfect time to do it.

“It started with a simple conversation between two friends on how to bring South Asian cultural vibrancy, filled with dance, music, mouth-watering food — and of course, colour — to the mainstream,” he explains. “That vision morphed into a dream to put on a Canada Day festival in Vancouver, where people of all backgrounds could come together to celebrate the one thing that unifies us, at least for a day, and that is the fabulous country that we live in.”

Singh and Ali approached Granville Island with their idea to put on a community festival that highlighted culture and the connection to Canada.

“Celebrating diversity is what our festival has always been about, and Canada Day on Granville Island is the perfect day and venue to bring all of us together,” Ali says. “Our festival supports the idea that, although Canadians are very diverse, we all love to celebrate each others’ uniqueness and encourage it.”

Fast-forward 12 years, and the MELA! Festivals has expanded to include dozens of vendors, thousands of visitors and, for the first time in 2017, two days of events. The word mela is Sanskrit, meaning a gathering or fair, and can be used to explain virtually any type of group event — from a religious gathering to a sporting-related affair. So, it’s safe to say the moniker has been a good fit for the event as it has continued to expand and evolve.

“We intend to be at the forefront of creating new and unique cultural collaborations that transcend the barriers of language, race and religion,” Ali explains. “We source-out the city’s top exhibitors who are eco-friendly to fit with Granville Island’s mandate of conservation and sustainability.”

This year’s two-day festival will include a wider range of cultures, according to Ali, in addition to the various vendors, cultural displays and musical acts longtime attendees have come to look forward to during Granville Island’s annual Canada Day celebrations.

“Around every corner you’ll find multicultural entertainment, artwork and food,” says Lisa Ono, manager of public affairs and programming at CMHC-Granville Island. “We are continuing our traditions with a community parade, lively music on four stages presented by the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and an official ceremony with-a-view at Ron Basford Park.”

There will also be a new public space, dubbed Under the Bridge, that will be home to artisans, Canada Day temporary tattoo application, children’s art activities and more.

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