Timmins residents have long enjoyed sharing their cultural backgrounds.
After a two-year absence due to the pandemic, the Timmins Multicultural Festival is set to make a triumphant return to the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, May 29, and celebrate two milestones. Not only will it be the 30th edition of the festival, but it will also help mark the 50th anniversary of the Timmins Multicultural Society, which organizes the event.
“The festival got started when a group in the area felt there was a need to get together and celebrate our wonderful diversity,” said Marnie Lapierre, president and co-chair of the Timmins Multicultural Festival. “At the time, it was recognized there were so many different cultures that had come into the area, predominantly for mining. It was a great way to bring the community together and explore each other’s cultures.”
Over the years, the diversity of the festival grew to match the population of the city.
“At the very beginning, there would have been Eastern European, such as Ukrainian and Croatian, and of course you would have the Scottish contingent that would come over, and French Canadian,” Lapierre said. “It grew from there. As you can tell from just visiting the area, we’ve become even more so diverse.”
There was also interest in celebrating multiculturalism in Timmins before multicultural became a common expression. In 1939, the McIntyre Arena was home to the inaugural National Festival, as promoted in the June 8 edition of The Porcupine Advance.
“At the meeting of the National Festival committee held recently, it was decided to take advantage of the McIntyre Mines’ offer and use the splendid air-conditioned arena at Schumacher for this big event,” the front-page story read.
“Much enthusiasm was shown and in addition to those who had already decided to take part, the newly formed patriotic Italian Society gave assurance of a group. This brings the total of different nationalities to take part to 14, including the British and Canadian groups.”
As the mosaic of Timmins changed over the years, so has the way of embracing new groups.
“Multiculturalism has definitely grown in the community,” Lapierre explained. “We’ve seen, over the years, there has been a need to establish the multicultural centre — which is a different entity from what the multicultural society is — and we’ve been able to see that they have provided a settlement welcoming package to work within the community and welcome the people who are new to the area.
“It’s been wonderful to see this happen because we’ve got some amazing families who have chosen Timmins as their home.”
Events like the Multicultural Festival help create an understanding of people’s backgrounds.
“I think it provides the opportunity to open discussion and to get to know your neighbour,” she said. “I think that being able to experience the beautiful culture, the attires, the food, the music, the literature and just getting to know the people.
“Some have been here for a very long time and some are new. Getting the opportunity to explore that is provided by this type of event.”
As the makeup of the city has evolved, so has the festival.
“The festival has changed over the years,” she said. “Sometimes we have a very large program to offer, as well as upwards of more than 20 different countries being represented and other years a little bit less. That depends on the number of volunteers each organization participates.
“This year, we’ve seen a bit of a change. A couple of long-standing organizations have chosen to step down simply because their membership has dwindled. We’re hoping at some point members in the community will step up and help with that.”
But new groups are always welcome.
“For example, the continent of Africa is going to be represented by 10 different countries. It’s amazing. We have members of the Timmins Multicultural Society from Nepal, from Mongolia, many from South American countries who will be there, and of course, some of our long-standing favourites such as the Dante Club, the Indigenous representation and the list goes on.
“I keep getting updates on who’s participating and we’re at the 11th hour,” she said
In addition to old favourites such us Ukrainian dancers, there will be some new entertainment.
“New this year, we’ve got salsa dancers,” she said. “That is being represented by the South American countries. They’ve kind of amalgamated this year. So, we’ve got a little bit of flash.
“We’re really hoping everyone has a good time and enjoys the show we put on.”
The festival kicks off at 12:30 p.m. with the welcoming speech and the parade.
“As you arrive, you’ll be asked to sit in the stands at the arena,” Lapierre said. “Then the main doors will open into the arena right after the parade and participants return to their tables. This way, everyone will have a safe entry for the parade goes and everyone can see it.”
The various cultural organizations will be having vending booths, offering patrons an opportunity to grab their favourite ethnic foods. There will also be entertainment, a 50-50 draw, and various other draws. There is also an opportunity to buy A Taste of Timmins Cookbook, a fundraiser by the Anti-hunger Coalition. Timmins
“This is our rebuild year after having two years off,” she said. “Our plans are a little lower key because we want to respect everyone’s comfort (level) with returning to public occasions.
“We’re building towards a brand new look for 2023. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the amazing sponsors who have come on board to assist with this.”
The goal of the society is to provide even more cultural opportunities throughout the year.
“We are working to provide ongoing programming throughout the year so that we can have at least once a month a cultural experience for residents and visitors to experience,” she said. “We haven’t figured out what that’s going to look like yet. We want to take care of the festival first.”
In addition to members of the Timmins Multicultural Society, there are 30-50 volunteers from the various cultural organizations represented at the festival. They all pull together to share their cultures and create a fun afternoon for residents and visitors.
“We’d like to see everyone there and be respectful of those who wish to mask and those who don’t,” Lapierre said. “There is a donation fee at the door, nothing specific, but it does go towards putting on an event like this.”