Revelstoke is a destination for people from around the world who are drawn to our mountain culture and mountain sports. It is also home to many immigrants who come for work or for our small-town lifestyle and end up staying. In the 2011 Census, residents listed 27 foreign languages as their mother tongues in addition to English, French and Cree. These included several African and Chinese languages, Korean, Japanese, Punjabi, Tagalog, Spanish (from Latin America), and Hebrew, in addition to numerous European languages.
At no time of the year is that diversity celebrated more than during the annual Carousel of Nations organized by the dedicated volunteers of the Revelstoke Multicultural Society. On Saturday, Feb. 2, almost a hundred people waited patiently for the doors to open for this much-anticipated event that welcomes diverse residents and tourists to share their ethnic food, dance and music and in the process to make connections and share stories.
While the bagpipes and drums of the Revelstoke Highlanders Pipe Band belted out Mairi’s Wedding, enthusiastic visitors honed in on their favourite ethnic foods. Soon the entire community centre hall was packed with people. There was a long line-up for the Ukrainian perogies from the Buns and Beyond booth and people were taking second helpings of Kevin Feng and Lu Si’s Chinese dumplings.
In all, 11 cuisines were represented, including French Canadian tortières, and aboriginal bannock and stew, with debuts by Cuban, Mexican and Italian chefs. For some, having a booth was a way of promoting the many ethnic restaurants and food stands in town, but many individuals, couples or groups also prepared food as a way of sharing their culture. Lu Si explained, “Most Western people know about China either 100 years ago when it was very undeveloped and poor or now when it is very modern but has pollution and high buildings. We want people to know more about Chinese culture and people and to taste real Chinese food. I think Revelstoke welcomes different cultures,” she added.
Aboriginal culture and history was well-represented at the event. Acknowledging the long historical aboriginal habitation and use of the Revelstoke area, Michelle Cole of the Revelstoke School District’s Aboriginal Committee, opened the celebration with a Mohawk song. A well-attended workshop by the Red Sky introduced aboriginal theatre, and a lively return performance by Li Jigeurs Mechif, a Metis dance and cultural troop from Golden, brought the children onto the dance floor.
Li Jigeurs Mechif fiddled, sang songs in the Mechif language, a combination of Cree and French, and performed acrobatic dances with brooms, belts and scarves. The troop, which includes members aged three to 76, started seven years ago when leaders Davene Dunn and Karen Nagao brought a Metis ‘jigeur’ to teach a workshop in Golden. “People were coming out of the cracks to attend,” she said. The performers’ pride in their culture is evident but this wasn’t always the case. “My mother’s generation was not proud of their heritage,” Dunn said. “Now we are proud. I am dancing for my mother.”
Sixteen visiting students from Ono Cho, Japan, resplendent in their traditional Hapii robes, presented a dramatic and athletic traditional fisherman’s dance. This was part of an annual exchange between students from Ono Cho, Revelstoke’s sister city, and the Revelstoke Secondary School.
One of the highlights of the events was a spectacular performance by the Latin soul band Locarno. The rich mix of Mexican and Cuban rhythms kept the audience dance – some even while they were serving food. Locarno went on to perform at the Last Drop Saturday evening, sponsored again in part by the Revelstoke Multicultural Society.
In addition to workshops on Scottish dancing and folk dancing and the opportunity to try Chinese calligraphy, the Revelstoke Museum and Archives showed off Revelstoke’s multicultural and ski history and fiddler Donna Peterson gave visitors a chance to try out her grandfather’s fiddle. Yuko Fujimura, the organizer behind the creation of thousands of origami cranes to commemorate the devastating 1910 Rogers Pass avalanche, taught Japanese origami. “It’s very cool to make a flat square paper become 3-D,” she said. “I want to see children do more and more of it.” That way, “they might be interested in learning about Japan.”
For locals and visitors the fourth annual Carousel of Nations provided a chance to celebrate our multiple heritages, taking another step towards making Revelstoke the cosmopolitan place it aspires to be.