Celebrate diversity at the Whistler Multicultural Festival 

Event returns with performances, crafts and food on June 8

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED  - Cultural connection Performers dance in front of the Whistler Public Library as part of last year's Whistler Multicultural Festival.
  • Photo submitted
  • Cultural connection Performers dance in front of the Whistler Public Library as part of last year's Whistler Multicultural Festival.

The Whistler Multicultural Festival is about a lot more than just food—but still, where else will you get the chance to try Japanese-style cotton candy flavoured with spinach, paprika or marigold? On top of that interesting treat, "our theme this year is pancakes from around the world," adds Carole Stretch, one of the festival organizers with the Whistler Multicultural Network.

That will mean you can try flat, round breakfast foods from Slovenia, Korean kim chi pancakes, as well as potato pancakes.

The food offerings will be set up in the plaza in front of the Whistler Public Library, where the festival will kick off on June 8 at 4 p.m.

Due to several years of temperamental weather since the festival started in 2013, many of the activities will take place inside the library as well. "Two years ago it poured rain and we came in and it worked really well," Stretch says. "So last year we decided we would start outside if it was nice then move inside if it got a little cool. We got really good feedback."

In total, more than 10 cultures that call Whistler home will be represented with food, crafts and performances throughout the event. In a town where accents are commonplace, it's important to set aside time to celebrate where Whistler's residents come from, Stretch says.

According to the 2016 census, 21.8 per cent of Whistler's population are immigrants—meaning permanent residents or naturalized citizens. That doesn't even take into account the other 10 per cent who are here on temporary visas. "This is a huge part of our population that is very invisible most of the time," Stretch says. "It's really important we start seeing our town in this light. We are hugely multicultural."

To that end, performers will present a 2,000-year-old Chinese dance—complete with costumes from China—as well as Tai Chi and a musical performance from the students at Xetólacw Community School in Mount Currie, to name just a few.

"We have some of the staples and favourites, but new things too, which is always good," Stretch says.

Each performer or group will have 20 minutes to showcase their work. This year, they'll perform back-to-back with one show finishing on the stage while the other begins in the plaza area. "It's non-stop," Stretch says. "We'll alternate ... Putting (the stages) closer together (will mean) people can turn from one to the other."

Inside the library, participants will find an array of crafts and activities. This year, in lieu of calligraphy, kids can make hanko stamps, which are Japanese stamps with a family name on them that serve as a seal. "We used to paint names on paper (in calligraphy), so we'll carve that into rubber and put it on a piece of wood and people will have their own hanko stamps," Stretch says.

There will also be origami, Australian dot painting and piñata decorating. "People love (piñatas) so much," Stretch adds. "They're making them in front of me (right now) to decorate."

This year, Arts Whistler will host a Canadian craft table while the Whistler Museum will oversee a Whistler heritage craft in the park. "(The festival) is for families with children, locals—it's for immigrants to come and show their culture off and for other children to learn about their cultures," Stretch says.

That's why organizers are grateful to the Community Foundation of Whistler and the province for stepping up to fund the festival after they were turned down for a Canadian Heritage grant for the first time in the event's six-year history.

"At one point when we knew what the signs were that we weren't going to get this core funding I went to the advisory board and said, 'What do we do? Do we not do it?'" Stretch says. "They said, 'no, it's important. It's the biggest thing we do in the year.' ... We really appreciate (the local funding). That to me says we're beginning to be seen and valued locally."

The festival is still looking for volunteers. If you'd like more information on how to help email info@welcomewhistler.com or call 604-388-5511.

The Whistler Multicultural Festival takes place on June 8 in and around the Whistler Public Library from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.

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