A long time ago, Deb Jutra was at the T&M Hotel when a visitor said to her, “This is amazing, I see seven different cultures here and they are all getting along.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Jutra, not in a surprised way but, rather, in an “of course” kind of way.
“In the Yukon, we are awesome,” she says today. “We are an exceptional community in that we have that extra tolerance, that extra acceptance.”
Not to take this for granted, not to take the rich makeup of the Yukon for granted, Jutra began laying the groundwork to acknowledge and thank those who come from around the world to make the Yukon the multi cultural community it is today.
From Aug. 1 to 3, the First Annual Whitehorse Heritage Festival will be a showcase of fashion, food, crafts, dance and entertainment from 31 corners of the world.
The highlight comes on the second day, at 2 p.m., when the Grand March begins from the Visitor Information Centre. One person will carry the flag of their nation while another carries a sign to the Old Fire Hall and over the stage for all to see.
“This is an opportunity to feel really proud,” says Jutra.
Then there will be welcoming speeches from delegates, in particular from First Nations representatives who will welcome the many cultures to their traditional lands.
This will be followed by a fashion show.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” says Jutra. The Yukon Arts Centre has created “a nice light show” for the event to best show off the mostly Asian dress.
The day before, Friday, the Old Fire Hall will be split in two. On one side, there will be an Asian Tea Ceremony at 10 a.m. and at 1 p.m. Tickets for this are available at Arts Underground.
On the other side, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be a craft show. This is free.
Sunday will be a day of appetizers from around the world and free entertainment from noon to 7 p.m.
Pulling all of this together started with an invitation to a potluck dinner at Hellaby Hall. There were 11 cultures represented, while another seven or eight expressed an interest, but were unable to attend.
“People stood up and said, ‘Hi, I am so and so from this place’ and then the rest of the people said back to them, ‘Hi’,” says Jutra.
“I wasn’t the least surprised,” she says of the turnout. “I knew they were out there.”
The Whitehorse Heritage Festival Society was formed with members who were Filipino, French, East Indian and Vietnamese.
A fundraising dinner hinted at the success the organization would have as every plate was sold.
“It was incredible,” says Jutra. “There were people standing up.”
But the work is not done yet. The society is looking for volunteers to work security and to help with setting up and taking down.
And Jutra is hoping attendees will help, too, by filling out evaluation cards at the event. She says she only received half of the funding she was hoping for this year. With a successful festival behind her, she will have access for more funding next year.
Although she likes having a venue close to downtown, it is small. She was hoping for a tent at Shipyards Park.
Already this being called a “first annual” event as Jutra believes it is necessary for Yukoners to thank immigrants for choosing this as their home.
“It is a personal, moral commitment to do this,” she says. “This has been my passion.”
As a cashier at Superstore, she would spread the word to her customers.
“This is a really good feeling.
“This is a message we should give to these immigrants: you are welcome here; do not be afraid to reach out to the community; don’t be afraid to celebrate your culture.”