ABOYNE – Whether they were enthralled by the traditional southern Chinese Fut Shan Lion dance, got up and joined in on a Caribbean Soca dance or heard some familiar bagpipe tunes, hundreds came out to a first time festival celebrating the increasingly diverse Wellington County.
The county held its first Multicultural Festival Saturday afternoon featuring cultural performances and food from around the world outside at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.
“It’s really a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diversity that exists in our community as we try to make sure that we welcome diversity and learn the value of how it enriches our lives today and into the future,” said Warden Andy Lennox in an opening address. “By joining here today, you’re here to create a friendly, open and welcoming community. That’s what we’re after in Wellington County.”
According to the 2023 Vital Signs report by Guelph Community Foundation, one in 10 Wellington County residents are immigrants. Those who arrived in Wellington County in the last five years were most commonly from India, Philippines, United States and Syria.
Safia Gohar, newcomer education navigator with Lutherwood who is originally from Pakistan, said events like this are important in rural areas to show acceptance to newcomers in the area and their cultures.
“They do appreciate it by applauding and attending different booths, that’s kind of like acknowledging and welcoming to the area,” Gohar said. “I know it’s not easy to be a newcomer at a place but if you have a community which is welcoming you with different festivals, serving different kinds of foods, events showcasing different dances, different festivities, I think it’s going to be very helpful for the newcomers to enjoy the community.”
A group of Indians from Elora, Fergus and Guelph who performed a traditional Garba dance said they were happy to get to share how Indians celebrate,to gather with the Wellington County community and show we’re more similar than we are different.
“It is better that we keep together all on one stage,” said Keyuri Bhavsar, an Elora resident and business owner. “We can meet the people, greet the people and then we can just expand it all over in Canada.”
“We are saying it doesn’t matter what you are, you know, Indian, Canadian, anybody,” added Alka Patel. “We’re one human being together at the stage and celebrating everybody together.”
There’s also a practical side the county sees to welcoming immigrants and keeping them living in Wellington County.
“Employers are asking for more newcomers, they need more workers, we need more people to open businesses to create employment," said Eduardo Queiruga, settlement worker with the county’s social services department from Uruguay. “A little diversity is good for business, for the economy and for culture. “This is our first multicultural festival and hopefully, we will do this annually.”