Published in St. Thomas Times Journal February 14, 2015

TJ Times Feb 14

Cultural diversity is sometimes more visible in urban centres than in rural communities.

But an event next week aims to shine a light on the breath and depth of culture in St. Thomas and Elgin county.

“Here in Elgin county sometimes there are misperceptions that we don’t have as much,” said Fabiana Estrela, project coordinator for the St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership.

“And so it’s nice for us to come together and learn more of all the diversity available in the community.”

The event is Moving Forward, an annual gathering set for Thursday, Feb. 19 at the St. Thomas Seniors Recreation Centre.

“In the past … a keynote speaker would come and talk in a more formal setting and people would sit down and eat,” Estrela said.”

“And this year we wanted to do more like a drop-in event.”

Visitors can drop in to experience an aboriginal smudging ceremony, quilt display, interactive crafts and an aboriginal drum circle.

They can also listen as newcomers share stories of their immigration to Canada or watch videos from a Tell Your Story video series.

The videos feature stories from newcomers about why they came to Canada or left their country, plus stories about their successes and the challenges they faced.

“It helps people understand that not everybody that comes to Canada comes for the same reasons and the same process or for the same stream of immigration,” Estrela said.

At 7 p.m., organizers will announce winners of their first-ever Newcomer Champion Awards.

The awards recognize individuals, groups and agencies that are supporting cultural diversity, and newcomers who are helping build welcoming, caring and inclusive communities.

“A newcomer is more like a self-definition,” Estrela said. “So sometimes people will be here for 30 years and they will still call themselves a newcomer.

“And sometimes after people get the citizenship or they’ve been here for a few years, they don’t really self-identify as a newcomer anymore.”

The event will also feature displays and information from the local cultural diversity committee, Rotary Club student exchange program, St. Hilda’s-St. Luke’s Refugee Committee, Mennonite Community Services, YWCA Settlement Services, and STELIP.

It’s a free event, Estrela noted.

“And it’s for everybody in the community – residents, children, seniors, business owners, teachers, students, anybody.

“It’s for the community.”

— — —


Moving Forward

What: A celebration of diversity in the St. Thomas-Elgin community

When: Thursday, Feb. 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: St. Thomas Seniors Recreation Centre (225 Chestnut St., St. Thomas)

Cost: Free