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Celebrate national days to boost multiculturalism,

Whistler Forum hosts dialogue on how to embrace community diversity

Pique, Nov. 17, 2011

Celebrating national days is perhaps the best way to boost multiculturalism in Whistler.

That's the conclusion of a discussion hosted Thursday night by the Whistler Forum for Leadership and Dialogue that brought out all mayoral candidates and several candidates for council to discuss how best to embrace diversity in the world's number one winter sports community.

William Roberts, president of the Whistler Forum, intended the dialogue as a chance for election candidates to engage with newcomers to Whistler. He initially hoped that a group of Filipino residents would come and share their stories, but they never ended up attending. The dialogue was comprised entirely of Caucasian men and women.

"Unfortunately tonight, a bunch of the Filipinos, they felt too shy about coming," Roberts said. "I spoke to them last month and said, please come share your experiences."

What followed from there was a robust and active dialogue about ways that the community could engage multiculturalism, and celebrating national days emerged as the most popular idea.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, agreeing with an earlier suggestion by fellow mayoral candidate Ralph Forsyth, said government cannot be relied upon to promote multiculturalism alone and that it should also fall to agencies such as the Whistler Arts Council or the Forum to promote national days such as St. Jean Baptiste Day or Aussie Day.

"I can think of two cultures that have celebrations, one is St. Jean Baptiste, for French Canadians and Quebecois, and Aussie Day," he said. "It's a celebration, impromptu, nothing structured, but why not celebrate Mexican Independence Day, give them a day where the community can come?"

Corinne Allison, an immigrant to Canada from Switzerland and now a candidate for council, also liked the idea of celebrating national days.

"I really believe that having countries celebrate what's unique, giving them a forum for the community to appreciate that, it really helps the family," she said. "Some of those cultures are much more different from we are, and others are very similar."

Council candidate Steve Andrews, meanwhile, suggested a weekly music program to take place at Whistler Olympic Plaza, a series that would feature a different country every week.

"One set a night each week, it's going to be Spain one week, Malaysia the next," he said. "People from those countries can collaborate on that to make it as good as possible."

Council candidate Jack Crompton said a community like Whistler could orient some events around soccer, a world famous sport that crosses ethnic and cultural boundaries.

"It's not a government thing, but a club thing," he said. "It would be just a celebration of the game. You would do it on the same weekend the World Cup is happening, you could show games around the village, and it crosses boundaries. You'd have a whole new group of people enjoying what we love about Whistler."

Hi Brooks, also a candidate for council, said it might help young people coming to Whistler from other countries to establish a social media engine where they can go for information on their own. The idea proved to be the second most popular of anything raised at the session.

"Whether that's a multicultural page or website, or if it's encouraging the individual groups," he said, "if there's certain groups that are getting together somewhere, we need to show that access is available for different groups when they come here."