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Festival celebrates our cultural collage

Folks can take a trip around the world at Saturday's event in Tumbler Ridge

Trays of colourful centrepieces and boxes full of arts and craft supplies are stacked up in preparation for the Tumbler Ridge Multicultural Festival on Saturday.

The event will wrap up nearly one year of activities dedicated to introducing new Canadians through the Welcoming Communities Program.

"It's a good thing to have people learn about other cultures," said Carmen Drapeau, the Welcoming Communities ambassador for Tumbler Ridge, and also the manager of the Tumbler Ridge Chamber of Commerce. "All over B.C., people are moving here for different jobs."

The festival, held at the arena, will host a wide variety of activities geared towards introducing community members to some of the diverse cultures of their neighbours. Following the day of activities, a buffet featuring Chinese and Italian foods from local restaurants will be hosted at the arena, as well as an adult dance.

With a background in graphic design, and having operated arts centres in Manitoba and Alberta, Drapeau is enthused about some of the creative projects that will be offered for children at the event.

Across 19 tables that will line the arena, children can learn how to do their own henna tattoos, practice gyotaku - Japanese fish printing - and work on Mexican-inspired etched tin pieces.

"It's going to encourage diversity if they can try something different," said Drapeau. "When people can try out different kinds of art from what they may think of as art, it encourages tolerance for other cultures and diversity."

Within Tumbler Ridge, Drapeau said they have community members from the Philippines, South Africa, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, China and beyond. She said the Filipino community has been particularly involved throughout the Tumbler Ridge Welcoming Community Project, and will be performing a dance at the festival, accompanied by Filipino residents of Dawson Creek.

"The Filipino community is very tight-knit, they're very involved in the community," said Drapeau, who admitted that they've made her job a lot easier.

The program is a part of WelcomeBC, a federally and provincially funded initiative for assisting newcomers to Canada in feeling more at home in British Columbia.

Throughout the year, Drapeau said they have hosted several cultural events, offered resources such as a workshop with an immigration consultant, and chartered a bus from Tumbler Ridge to Dawson Creek so that newcomers could acquire ID documents, passport photos and anything else not available in town.

Drapeau added that the bus - running several times per month throughout the winter, when people don't necessarily want to make the drive themselves - is free and open to the whole community. Although it is an initiative of the program, Drapeau also put an invite out to seniors in particular, as they might be in need of the service - and it allows for the groups to mix.

"To integrate the seniors with the newcomers, I think is really important," said Drapeau. "Many of them are retired and they have a lot of time to talk to them."

Having lived in many communities across the country, Drapeau knows first hand how difficult it can be to integrate, even within your own country.

"The Welcoming Communities Project, it's a government-funded program, and the objective is to help newcomers into communities - the objective is to help people transition," said Drapeau. "If people are welcomed in a place, they are happy, and that's ultimately better for the whole community."

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