Manitoba

First official Filipino Heritage Month 'a testament' to community's contributions

Excitement is building in Winnipeg’s Filipino community, as the first ever Filipino Heritage Month goes into full swing.

Month-long national celebration approved unanimously last fall in the House of Commons

Noemi’s Cuisine, owned by Marinel Nagthalon, is one of many food vendors that’ll set up this weekend at the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival at the Maples Multiplex. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Excitement is building in Winnipeg's Filipino community, as the first ever Filipino Heritage Month goes into full swing.

The brand new national celebration was approved unanimously last fall in the House of Commons and runs the entire month of June.

Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez says Filipino-Canadians are the fastest growing community in Canada, with a population of more than 850,000. He hopes Filipino Heritage Month encourages Canadians to learn more about the community's contributions to our nation's economy, politics and culture.

Dante Aviso is program director for the Winnipeg edition of Filipino Heritage Month, and an avid history buff. He says Filipinos started arriving in Winnipeg in the 1960s, with many working in the medical fields.

In the following decades, Aviso says, many picked up jobs in the technical and engineering fields and the sewing industry.

"The garment industry in Winnipeg would not have flourished if not for the Filipino garment workers hired in the '70s and '80s," he said. "And it really made Manitoba's economy bloom."

Dante Aviso is the program director for Winnipeg's Filipino Heritage Month, and says it’s an honour to see the hard work of Filipino-Canadians officially recognized. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Aviso says it's an honour to see the hard work of Filipino-Canadians officially recognized. He says the province has also adopted June as Filipino Heritage Month, while Winnipeg city hall flies the Filipino flag on June 12, the country's independence day.

"It's a reaffirmation. A testament. A validation," he said. "Filipinos' contribution to Canadian society cannot be ignored."

Connecting with culture, food

In Winnipeg, Filipino business owners said they're thrilled to be front and centre at local celebrations. Noemi's Cuisine is one of many food vendors that'll set up this weekend at the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival at the Maples Multiplex.

Owner Marinel Nagthalon says the event is key for nurturing cultural understanding.

"We have diverse food and languages," she said. "It's nice for the younger ones to know their roots."

Noemi's Cuisine started a few years ago, through word of mouth. Nagthalon started baking treats in the traditional style of her native Philippines.

Marinel Nagthalon opened up her business, Noemi’s Cuisine, on McGregor Street in 2017. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

She says back then, the delicacies were hard to find in Winnipeg. One day, she posted a photo on social media.

"People started asking if they could buy them from me," said Nagthalon.

The goodies were so popular, she got a business license and started selling them through custom orders and events.

"I think we did that for a year. And then in March 2017, we opened this shop," she said, her face glowing with pride.

Nagthalon came to Canada in 2005, landing her first job at Tim Horton's. A few months in, she wondered whether her family made the right move.

"My first winter here, I was waiting for the bus, and tears were coming from my eyes," she recalled, with a chuckle. "I thought, 'What am I doing here?"

Now, her business on McGregor Street is flourishing, with walk-in business picking up.

Community growing

Nagthalon's success is the kind of story that pleases Dale Voluntad. The president of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council says the local Filipino restaurant industry is thriving, along with retail, manufacturing and special services.

"Bringing new culture to Canada is something to be very, very proud of," said Voluntad.

Another source of pride is the Filipino community's continuing growth.

"When we started the council in 2010, the community was about 60,000," he says. "There are now more than 75,000 Filipinos in Manitoba."

The council tries to broaden the networks of its members, who include large business owners, employees and entrepreneurs. Voluntad hopes Filipino Heritage Month helps Winnipeggers realize his community's significant contribution to the city .

"In terms of our demeanour, we're very shy," says Voluntad. "So having something like this celebrated on a national level is very, very humbling."

Excitement is building in Winnipeg's Filipino community, as the first ever Filipino Heritage Month goes into full swing. 2:21

About the Author

Emily Brass

@EmilyBrass

Emily Brass is the afternoon radio news anchor at CBC Manitoba. She's worked as a national and local journalist at CBC in Montreal, Toronto, St. John's, Victoria and London, U.K.

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