Winnipeg group aims to make Folklorama more accessible to newcomers

As Winnipeg's biggest cultural festival resumes in-person festivities for the first time since 2019, organizers are partnering with a local non-profit to offer a program encouraging newcomers to experience what the festival has to offer.

Partnership with cultural festival designed to help newcomers build sense of community, says NEEDS director

A crowd watches a Folklorama performance at the festival's kick-off event at Assiniboine Park on Saturday afternoon. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

As Winnipeg's biggest cultural festival resumes in-person festivities for the first time since 2019, organizers are partnering with a local non-profit to offer a program encouraging newcomers to experience what the festival has to offer.

"People who are born and raised here, it's very easy for us to say this is a very culturally diverse city," Lisa Jansz, program director at Newcomers Employment & Education Development Services (NEEDS), told CBC's Weekend Morning Show guest host Bryce Hoye on Saturday.

"But oftentimes, if you arrive here as a new, resettled family with perhaps some language barriers and things like that, you really don't get to experience all of the goodness that Winnipeg has on your own."

Folklorama kicked off Saturday afternoon with an event at Assiniboine Park, launching the 51st edition of the festival with free children's activities, food trucks, cultural workshops and performances.

A total of 24 cultural pavilions will be open at venues around Winnipeg from July 31 until Aug. 13. Visitors can find the complete schedule on Folklorama's website.

Jansz said Folklorama approached NEEDS, which helps newcomer Canadians with integration resources and other support, to see if they knew of any families interested in attending. The partnership is sponsored in part by Manitoba Hydro as well, Jansz said.

NEEDS will help participants travel to pavilions and navigate the event, while Folklorama will provide families with complimentary passes to attend their choice of pavilions throughout the two weeks of the festival, Jansz said.

The main goal of the partnership is to help newcomers build a sense of community, according to Jansz, since those who settled in Winnipeg during the pandemic most likely had their first experiences of the city in isolation.

"And even after their period of isolation, as we know, there were so many things that just weren't running," she said.

'Home away from home'

Folklorama executive director Teresa Cotroneo says the partnership with NEEDS is an important addition.

"Folklorama wouldn't have been so successful so many years if it didn't welcome the changing demographics of Manitoba into our Folklorama home," she said at Saturday's kick-off event.

Teresa Cotroneo, Folklorama's executive director, says the event's partnership with NEEDS is 'truly special' for organizers. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Cotroneo said many people who came to Canada have said they were told to go to Folklorama as soon as they arrived in Manitoba.

"That's truly because Folklorama has really been like a home away from home for so many people over the decades, so having the relationship with NEEDS and having them come in and experience this great festival and all the great people involved is truly, truly special for us," she said.

Folklorama and NEEDS partnered on the new program because they want newcomers to enjoy the sense of community and inclusion that comes with the festival, and to hopefully find pavilions with people who share their language and culture, Jansz said.

"But there's also maybe that possibility that they can meet some friends or people who have gone through similar experiences as them," she said. It is also a chance for newcomers to enjoy foods or cultural practices they may have missed since they came to Canada.

Another intention of the program is to show newcomers in Winnipeg the diversity of their new home, Jansz said.

"This is a great opportunity to just be in a community of folks that they may not have been in a community this large in a very long time."


Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation who joined CBC Manitoba in 2021 through the inaugural Pathways program. She is Anishinaabe/Turkish Cypriot and grew up in Winnipeg's North End. She holds a master of fine arts in writing from the University of Saskatchewan. You can reach her at

With files from Bryce Hoye and Kevin Nepitabo