Whistler Multicultural Festival gets hands on 

The local immigrant community comes together to offer up arts, culture and food

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOERN ROHDE/JOERNROHDE.COM - Cultural Festival Whistler's Cultural Festival will take place again this year with new organizers. Over 20 cultures will be represented at the event with food, arts and performances.
  • Photo by Joern Rohde/joernrohde.com
  • Cultural Festival Whistler's Cultural Festival will take place again this year with new organizers. Over 20 cultures will be represented at the event with food, arts and performances.

Most events that highlight cultures from different countries centre around one thing: food.

Sure, delicious eats from far flung places are a good reason to get off the couch, but the annual Whistler Multicultural Festival is about more than just that, says Carole Stretch, one of the organizers.

"This is the vision of how the immigrant community in Whistler wanted (the festival) to be," she says. "There will be food, but we're pushing a cap of $4 on the food. All the activities in the library are free. We want people to come in and try things."

There are a variety of hands-on activities taking place from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. June 21 in and around the Whistler Library and Museum. They run the gamut from painting Peruvian beads to learning Tinikling dance — complete with Filipino costume — and building an origami peace crane tree, for which they hope to collect 1,000 cranes in four hours. For families there will also be multicultural story telling, piñatas and face painting. "The prime target is not visitors," Stretch adds. "It's the immigrant community saying, 'Here we are. We want the community to see we're here, that we're participating and what we can offer.' It's just an opportunity to do that and, at the same time, they're contributing by having an event."

This year, the festival was taken over from the Whistler Forum for Diversity and Leadership through a combined effort by the Whistler Multicultural Network, the Whistler Public Library, Whistler Museum with sponsorship from Welcoming Communities Whistler and Watermark Inc.

"We've been involved for the last two years," Stretch, who works for the Whistler Multicultural Network, says. "When (the Whistler Forum) decided not to continue, they asked if we would want to take it over. Last year, I said no then in February I asked (our) group and they said yes."

Some of the events will take place outside, but organizers are grateful to have the library space in case of foul weather. "I worked very closely with the library and they were really more than happy to coordinate and liaise with us," Stretch says. "They said, 'you can do pretty much what you want. We like the idea of the library because last year it rained."

Funding for the event has been complicated. Last year, it barely broke even, paying $400 to close Main Street where food vendors set up. This year, the street will not be closed, though the municipality will allow organizers to use a portion of a road for the event.

Like in 2012, they learned last minute that they would receive funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada for the event. With Whistler's growing immigrant community — around 20 countries will be represented — the event has become an important way for newcomers to share their culture with other locals.

"We have a lot of families now," Stretch says. "We've got a lot of Filipino families, a lot of Japanese families. Whistler is getting people coming in and sponsoring their families."

All performers are locals, with the furthest talent travelling from Pemberton. "We've got a star of the future. A Filipino boy from Pemberton is going to sing," she says. "Everything that's happening is local. We haven't brought in any performances. It's all volunteer and it's all from the immigrant community."



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