Changing demographics feeds multicultural fest’s growth

The 2019 Westman Multicultural Festival prepares to host 10 pavilions Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 with representation from England, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Métis, Philipinnes, Mexico, Scotland, Ukraine and Mauritius.

Brandon’s growing population of new Canadians from a wider variety of backgrounds has spurred more interest in the Westman Multicultural Festival as it enters its 16th year of operation.

The 2019 festival, which runs in venues throughout the city Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, will host 10 pavilions highlighting the cultures of England, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Métis, Philippines, Mexico, Scotland, Ukraine and Mauritius. Admission to all pavilions is free and will include traditional food and beverages for purchase while hosting regularly scheduled cultural dance, music and other presentations.

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Between 25,000 and 30,000 people attend the Westman Multicultural Festival on an annual basis.

“The success of the festival is coming from the fact that, for the Westman community, there’s nothing else really like this happening yearly,” said Gautam Srivastava, secretary for the Westman Multicultural Festival Society.

“Another reason is – at least over the past five years – we’ve definitely seen an increase in immigration. With new cultures and new people coming into the area, people are inquisitive about cultures they may have never had an opportunity to see before. This has kept us steady over the past five to 10 years.”

Although traffic through the pavilions last year was down slightly, Srivastava said this was partially due to cold weather experienced in Brandon during the festival. This year, the organizing committee has set out to improve marketing using social media strategies, something they believe will boost patronage of the festival.

“We’ve started a push to get the festival more in line with the technology age, so there is more of a social media push this year,” he said. “I feel there’s a lot of new blood on the pavilion committees, so we’re doing some more new, exciting things than past years.”

Due to a shortage of funding and volunteers, the Irish pavilion will not be part of this year’s cultural celebration. However, the Westman Jamaican Community has worked diligently through the past year to raise enough money to enter the festival for the first time.

“This is something we’ve been working towards for quite some time and we’re excited to showcase the food, drink, dance and everything Jamaican for our community,” said Katriana Miller, the Westman Jamaican Community’s event coordinator.

“There’s been talk about this for a few years. I’ve been in Brandon for more than 20 years and it’s something a few of us that were Jamaican have discussed, but didn’t have an official association or community group to put it together.”

The creation of the Westman Jamaican Community organization solved that, as did the growing number of area residents with a Jamaican background. Miller suggested there are about 200 people with ties to Jamaica now living in Brandon, including immigrants and students arriving for post-secondary education.

“There’s been a general increase over the past two decades, but more so in the last three to five years,” she said.

Organizers of the Jamaican pavilion, which will be hosted in the Prairie Oasis Centre on 8th Street, are seeking to provide something interesting for all generations. Besides traditional food and beverages, the entertainment will include culturally relevant dance performances by the JamRockers and reggae music by Brandon’s Lenya Wilks.

Miller said they hope to break any stereotypes associated with Jamaica and its people.

“The pavilion is opening its doors to everybody in the community. It’s not an age specific event; that will be the nice thing,” she said. “People will be able to enjoy a piece of Jamaica right here in Brandon, even if they’ve been to Jamaica before and know what it’s about.”

Looking forward, Srivastava sees a bright future for the festival; one that may someday rival similar events held in larger cities like Winnipeg.

“This year, we have 10 pavilions, but there was interest from another three ethnic groups to have pavilions. They were just not able to get together the volunteers to make that commitment,” he said. “With the new people moving to the area, the number of pavilions is only going to grow. I wouldn’t be surprised in the coming years if we see up to 15 pavilions participating in the festival.”

Srivastava also noted that the event is garnering substantial support from the area’s business community, many of whom see the commercial benefits of reaching out to new Canadians living in and around Brandon. Instead of the festival committee approaching businesses about sponsorships, the businesses are now coming to them to participate.

“I see that growing in years to come as well,” he said.

For further details about the Westman Multicultural Festival – including information on the free public transportation provided during the three-day event – visit gotothepavilions.com. Information is also available under “wmmfest” on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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