The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery (MAG) this past Sunday as staff and volunteers hosted a ‘Welcome to Red Deer’ party.
The party was held to welcome newcomers to the City, and also aimed to tap into some of that Westerner Days spirit, said Lorna Johnson, executive director of the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery.
“The purpose of the event is to celebrate the diversity of Red Deer, and to send a special welcome to the people who have recently arrived,” she said. “Initially when we were planning, we thought that we would have it for the Syrian refugees but then we realized there are so many newcomers to the community. So we kind of turned it into a bigger party.
“It’s a warm-up for Westerner Days and a chance to socialize,” she said, adding the event marked the first time the Museum had held a function like this. “I’ve had questions like, ‘Are you going to do this again’?” she said with a smile.
Highlights included a pancake breakfast, the local western band ‘Country Friends’, games, crafts and handkerchief tying at the MAG.
“We thought an old-fashioned country fair with a modern twist feel – we thought that would be the best for a warm welcome,” added Kim Verrier, coordinator of visitor experience.
The MAG has also unveiled a refreshed building exterior, including the newly installed murals.
“They give a glimpse of some of the wonderful artifacts that are on display inside the MAG,” said Johnson. “We hope that they will encourage everyone to come and explore our exhibits. Our staff will be happy to show you where you can see the actual artifacts and images.”
Also onsite during the party was ‘The Together truck’ which is driving change across Canada and featuring ‘Together: An exhibition on global development’ which is an interactive, bilingual experience for all ages.
The exhibition featured photography, film, and audio, an interactive world map of Canadian contributions overseas and a skills quiz for visitors to discover how they can contribute to the fight against poverty.
‘Together’ was developed by Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), and features the work of 21 Canadian organizations working to reduce poverty around the world.
Folks were also checking out a current exhibit at the Museum called ‘Canada: Day 1.’
The exhibit is focused on bringing some of the experiences of folks who have come to Canada over the past 150 years to life. Newcomers’ unique and shared experiences—across time and cultures—are highlighted in a thoughtful way through oral histories, archival images, original artworks, objects and visitor participation.
The exhibit, from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, is showing through to mid-August.
Meanwhile, there are two local citizens who are featured in the exhibit as well – Monybany Dau and Ethel Suarez.
Suarez was born in Salto, Uruguay in 1944.
In 1973, a military coup forced many people to leave Uruguay because of their political beliefs. Suarez and her husband belonged to a political party that was banned by the new government and they were harassed and threatened by the military. The family fled first to Argentina and eventually came to Canada in 1977.
The family settled in Red Deer where Suarez and her husband opened and operated a successful carpentry business. She sold the business five years later after her husband passed away in 1985. She also worked with Catholic Social Services, having just retired last year.
She is also involved with C.A.R.E. (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) and currently serves on the board, having done so for more than 30 years. She said it’s so rewarding to help folks settle in, find the right programs and make the best decisions in being newcomers to Canada. “They come with a lot of things – they went through so much leaving their countries and leaving them behind. I’ve been in their shoes.”
Suarez said the Welcome to Red Deer party was also important because it helps people understand the experiences that refugees go through, particularly through the Canada: Day 1 exhibit as well.
“I am glad that people are getting more interested to know more about refugees and what they have gone through.”
For Suarez and her family, settling in Red Deer meant coming to a place where they could live without fear. There were of course challenges, but she pointed out that the family knew that no matter what, Canada was where they were going to build a new life.
“As refugees, we have come here to integrate into the community and the country and work like everybody else and live in peace.”