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N.L.ers celebrate Canadian Multiculturalism Day with food, fashion and music

Dancers come together for Canadian Multiculturalism Day hosted by the Tombolo Multicultural Festival at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

The St. John’s Farmer’s Market houses a collection of cultures on any given weekend, which made it the perfect place to celebrate Canadian Multiculturalism Day Sunday.

Canadian Multiculturalism Day is marked by the federal government as a day of learning in the country, aimed at promoting and allowing people to discover various cultures across Canada.

From food and crafts to fashion and music, organizers said the event showcased more than 20 countries around the world, from Mexico and Syria to Bangladesh.

Organizer Zainab Jerrett says occasions like Canadian Multiculturalism Day are important for bringing different communities together and showcasing diversity within the province.

“It helps us live and appreciate one another from different cultural backgrounds,” Jerrett, who is originally from Nigeria, said Sunday. “We are all Canadians. Diverse, but we are multicultural and united.”

Shohreh Afzali arrived in St. John’s from Iran earlier this year. She says she was attracted to Canada in part because of its multiculturalism.

Learning about other cultures, she said, is not only interesting, but an important part of integrating into a new society.

“I thought, as a citizen of St. John’s, that maybe [it is] my duty to come and get familiar with different cultures, different peoples,” she said. “Because I’m going to actually live with them, to work with them.”

Shohreh Afzali, left, Omid Tarkhaneh both came to Newfoundland and Labrador from Iran. They came to the Multiculturalism Day event to learn more about the diversity of cultures in St. John’s. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Omid Tarkhaneh also grew up in Iran. He came to St. John’s to pursue his PhD studies in scientific computing at Memorial University.

He believes multiculturalism can be a catalyst for growth and progress, and said it’s often the “missing link” in less progressive countries.

“I think it’s very good if you can just be the kind of a person who can get along with each other in a better way,” he said. “Canada is kind of a pioneer in this case I think.”

Zainab Jarrett is executive director of the St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Jerrett executive director of the St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival, which began as a local cultural showcase in 2009. She said the lack of diversity in the province was apparent when she first arrived in 1992 — to the point where she had African food brought in from friends living in more diverse cities.

But, Jerrett said, she’s noted a drastic change since the time she first arrived in the province.

“Now I can walk to Dominion, Sobeys, Bulk Barn and buy food from anywhere in the world,” Jerrett said. “Newfoundland is really culturally diverse now.”

The provincial government announced Wednesday it will spend nearly $8 million to help attract 5,100 immigrants annually by 2026.

Census data for the City of St. John’s shows over 8,000 immigrants were living in the metro area in 2016 — 33 per cent of people arriving between 2006 and 2011.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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