The Cranbrook Multicultural Society is looking to pass the torch to the next generation of board members.
With humble beginnings and a vision to celebrate the community’s diversity, the society was formed nearly a decade ago, holding a signature annual event through the multicultural festival in the summer months.
But now, the original society board members are seeking to pass off the organization’s operations and management to new leadership.
“First of all, we wanted to see in this community if there’s another group of people who wanted to step up and step in as board directors and carry on the festival,” said Coco Seitz, president of the Cranbrook Multicultural Society, with board members that include her husband, Bruce, Crystal Green and Wayne Stetski.
The ideal scenario is that the society and festival can be taken over by a new group or volunteers with guidance and mentorship from the current board, however, there are also additional options.
The society does have some assets, financial and logistical (such as tents) that can be transferred to an interested organization while establishing a legacy fund in support of multiculturalism with the Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies, or with the College of the Rockies, are also potential options.
Going back nearly a decade, Stetski wanted to see more emphasis on multiculturalism within the city during his mayoral tenure, after experiencing celebrations of multiculturalism while living in Winnipeg and Vancouver.
“I truly believe that multiculturalism enriches our lives personally and it enriches our communities. It absolutely does, there’s no doubt about it,” Stetski said.
However, the effort to create a multicultural festival and society was spearheaded by Coco Seitz and Crystal Green, both of whom stepped in to serve as president and vice-president, respectively, of the organization when it first got off the ground.
Seitz immigrated to Cranbrook in 2009 from China — a cultural transition that went from living in a large cosmopolitan city to a small town nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Seitz was interested in helping with the creation of a multicultural festival, linking up with Green and meeting with Stetski as the city initially provided $5,000 towards the festival. Both Seitz and Green also developed a network of contacts through the grant writing process as well as the city’s diverse cultural community.
“I already had a thought in my head that one day I can help and do something about it,” said Seitz, on her desire to get a multicultural festival off the ground following her arrival in Cranbrook.
Seitz, Green and other volunteers formed the Cranbrook Multicultural Society and organized the first multicultural festival in Rotary Park in the summer of 2014.
The event featured 12 different cultures, including China, Japan, Korea, India, Philippines, Italy, Holland, South Africa, Vietnam, Ktunaxa, Metis, Canada. Participants were encouraged to create booths, present cultural displays, and share their unique cuisines, while festival organizers led by Audrey Stetski also arranged for live music that would also showcase different cultural elements.
As the festival grew, partnerships were established with other community organizations such as the College of the Rockies’ international student program — particularly the annual group of Japanese students — and the Cranbrook Farmers Market.
“By the second year, it was so amazing, the support of the Downtown Business Association, who said on that day business boomed because we brought so many people down,” said Green. “They wanted to support us in supporting the festival.
“Same with the [Cranbrook] Farmers Market; they wanted to be able to have it be the festival farmers market because they found that their numbers exploded. We worked well together — the people who came to the festival, saw the market; the people who came to the market saw the festival.”
Other sources of funding in support over the years included the Columbia Basin Trust, the Government of Canada and the Fisher Peak Performing Artists Society.
The multicultural festival peaked in 2017, with over 20 different cultures participating over a two-day span that included workshops and guest speakers.
However, the festival has experienced challenges in recent years, namely the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted large gatherings.
A waning volunteer pool also contributed to those challenges, as the festival is a huge undertaking that requires significant time and effort, particularly from individuals and families who are willing and able to share their unique cultural heritage and values.
In some cases, some families also moved out of the area or prominent volunteers passed away.
Some volunteers also drew back from the festival due to racism and concerns about being labelled cultural appropriators, according to Seitz.
But despite those challenges, the spirit of celebrating multiculturalism shines on, particularly in recent months as the community has embraced Ukrainians seeking shelter in Cranbrook and the East Kootenay while fleeing the Russian military’s invasion of their homeland.
“We know the community cares very deeply about multiculturalism because you can see with the response financially and support with the Ukraine society,” said Green. “You see it with other groups that when there’s a need, our community steps up, which means it is important.
“Again, the actual audience participation and showing up and coming to the festival has never dwindled…the community in general appreciates and enjoys and loves the festival; it’s just having those key members which is lacking, which again, is a theme in many associations and groups.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with the Cranbrook Multicultural Society and the festival can reach Stetski at email@example.com