In Bloom: Cherry Blossoms in Vancouver


Cherry Web

Photo by Dan Fairchild

By Carina Thanabadeepathara,


A cherry tree in bloom is a wondrous sight. It is the quintessential symbol of spring, of renewal and new beginnings.


This year, Vancouver’s 40,000 cherry trees are once again inspiring our visual artists, musicians, poets, musicians, filmmakers, designers, artisans, photographers, and chefs. Just in time for the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, we’re taking a look at the history and culture that has brought Japanese Sakuras to the streets of Vancouver.
The History
Vancouver is known for its street trees, but particularly its flowering cherries. The majority of these trees are the result of extensive plantings made during Vancouver’s boom years following the Second World War. Most of Vancouver’s flowering cherries are Sato Zakura (village cherries), so named because their origins are obscured by long cultivation in Japanese villages. Many of the trees were gifts to the City from Japan.
The first were planted in the 1930s in Stanley Park at the Cenotaph—gifts of the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama, to commemorate Japanese Canadians who fought in WW1.
In 1958 three hundred more cherry trees were donated by the Japanese consul, who described the gift as “an eternal memory of good friendship between our two nations.”
Many of these trees continue to flourish in all their glory in Queen Elizabeth Park, at Stanley Park, on the Cambie Heritage Boulevard and on the University of British Columbia campus. In total, some 35 different flowering cherry cultivars can be found in Vancouver.
The Festival
Linda Poole is the executive director and founder of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. “I believe in the power of the blossoms,” she says. “The ephemeral nature of the blossoming of the cherry tree reminds us all to seize the moment and celebrate life now.”
Poole founded the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival in 2005. “While living abroad in the Canadian Foreign Service for 13 years I longed for the glorious cherry trees in bloom back home at springtime,” she recalls.
“I learned of the age-old Sakura Festivals of Japan from a Japanese diplomat named Knobu-san and thought this would be a perfect way to celebrate the beauty and joy our 40,000 Japanese flowering cherry trees bring to our city every spring.”
The Festival found a permanent home in 2008, with the planting of the cherry grove, dedicated to the Honorable Dr. David Lam, at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in 2008.
Event Highlights
This year’s festival will feature an abundance of events inspired by the cherry tree. It begins with a gala opening—Sakura Night on March 30—a culinary concatenation featuring five of Vancouver’s top Japanese chefs and hosted by the legendary Tojo.
Following the launch, the festival will present:
Cherry Jam concert
Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
@ Indoor concourse of Burrard Skytrain station
Featuring dance, theatre, poetry and folk performances by Yayoi Movement Theatre, Michael Averill and more.
Plein-Air Blossom Painting
Saturday, April 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
@ VanDusen Botanical Garden
Try watercolour, ink and oil painting classes taught by esteemed artists. $50 per 3-hour class.
Blossom Bollywood
Saturday, April 12, 2014, 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
@ Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza
Free Bollywood dance party organized by SHIAMAK dancers.
Sakura Days Japan Fair
Saturday and Sunday, April 5 and 6, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
@ VanDusen Botanical Garden
Two-day celebration of Japanese culture. $12 at the door.
Bike the Blossoms
Saturday, April 26, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
@ China Creek South Park (E. Broadway at Clark Drive)
A guided bike tour through the best blossoms in Vancouver.
New this year, the Festival will present a free Cherry Rush tent at Sakura Days Japan Fair. Cherry Rush will welcome newcomers to this city and new Canadians at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens on April 5 and 6. This featured tent is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.


Types of Cherry Trees in Vancouver


Akebono Web 2
Akebono (Prunus x yedoensis):
The daybreak cherry, is a seedling of ‘Somei-yoshino’ with dense and ascending branching and pink blooms. This cultivar is widely grown in North America and is typically grafted.
Tree: Moderate-size, flat-topped and umbrella-shaped.
Flowers: Pink buds with petals fading to milk white from pale pink; individual flowers with 5 petals, often stained rose red at the base
Bloom time: Late March to early April

Locations: Running along Graveley St. from Lillooet to Windermere, or at Riley Park, 39th to 41st Avenue at Manitoba.


kanzan_cutler_highbury Web 1
Kanzan (Prunus Sato-zakura):
An ancient (sometime before 1681) Japanese cultivar, also called ‘Kwanzan’ or ‘Sekiyama.’  Kanzan is the most common and robust of all flowering cherries on Vancouver streets.
Tree: Large with sturdy, upright-spreading branches
Flowers: Double layers with loosely packed deep pink petals fading to pale pink with uneven edges
Bloom time: mid-April to mid-May
Locations: Fairview areas, including Sutcliffe Park on Granville Island and 7th Ave from Hemlock to Main.