It began on one Charlottetown street back in 2007 to help mark Canadian Multicultural Day.
Since then, DiverseCity has grown into a province-wide series of celebrations designed to showcase the wide array of cultures that comprise the Island population.
While the past two years were decidedly low-key due to pandemic restrictions, Mark Carr-Rollitt is hoping to meet or exceed the 2019 event that drew more than 26,000 people as DiverseCity marks its 15th anniversary.
“This year we have five locations, which is the most ever,” says Carr-Rollit, who manages the event for the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association of P.E.I.
He says planning the festival is a year-round process, working with a team of close to 100 volunteers to provide the free events. This year’s festival will showcase the music, food, and culture of 48 countries. That includes not only recent immigrants, but First Nations and the established descendants of earlier immigration: Acadian, English, Irish, and Scottish.
Carr-Rollit says organizers work closely with a host of ethno-cultural organizations to ensure as many cultures as possible are reflected in the event. He says members of these organizations are valuable contributors to its success as performers, vendors, volunteers, and attendees.
“We have our fingers crossed we will not only have good weather for all of the events, but that there will be relatively few restrictions in terms of numbers because of the pandemic,” Carr-Rollit says. “That being said, we will be adhering to any and all rules put in place by the Chief Public Health Office.”
The plans had been nearly finalized for that year’s event when COVID struck in 2020 and organizers quickly changed course to produce a two-part video-only presentation called DiverseCity@home. With attendance numbers limited last year, Carr-Rollit says they decided to film all of the performances and edit them into a four-part show that appeared on Eastlink community television across the Maritimes.
“We were pleased with the result and so was Eastlink and they have asked us to do the same thing again this year,” Carr-Rollit says. “It does allow us to reach an even wider audience and hopefully some people who saw last year’s show on television will come in-person this year.”
The first show is planned for June 26 in Charlottetown and will take place on the portion of Queen Street between Grafton and Sydney Streets. All five shows run from 12 noon to 8 p.m. with continuous performances on stage. There are also more than 30 food vendors; dance, martial arts, and sport demonstrations; multi-ethnic crafts and arts; kids crafts; and henna and face-painting.
“Our events are geared predominately to families, but we do attract a wide spectrum of ages, as well as a good mix of Islanders and visitors,” Carr-Rollit says. “This is expected to be a banner tourism year on P.E.I. after two years of travel restrictions, so we are expecting even more tourists to take in our events than usual.”
While the event continued to grow in size for the first seven years, it remained a single show based in the capital. That changed in 2014, the year Carr-Rollit took over as manager. P.E.I. had year-long celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that led to the birth of the country three years later, including a DiverseCity event in each of the Island’s three counties.
The next stop on the DiverseCity calendar will be in Alberton July 3 when part of Main Street will be closed to traffic. Carr-Rollit says all of the shows are held in high-profile locations within the community to help not only draw crowds for the event, but to increase traffic for businesses in the area.
On July 10, DiverseCity will be held in the Evangeline area for the first time on the grounds of the Egmont Bay and Mont Carmel Agricultural Exhibition and Festival Acadien.
“We had a request to come to the community and we are excited for the show,” Carr-Rollit says.
Summerside was one of the spots added in 2014, but it has been off the festival calendar for the last few years. Carr-Rollit says they’re working with city staff to hold the event on the grounds of the Wyatt Heritage properties July 24.
The four-part Eastlink series is slated to air in September.
Carr-Rollit says the festival has a strong social media presence and all of the shows are streamed live. He says for many people the event is an eye-opener to the cultural diversity found in Canada’s smallest province.
“While it is harder to collect feedback and to get exact attendance numbers because all our events are free, the comments we hear in-person and on social media are overwhelmingly positive,” Carr-Rollit says. “We are hoping this year’s shows will feel a little more like before the pandemic and we hope to just keep getting bigger and better.”
Anyone wishing to take part in this year’s events, either as a performer, volunteer or vendor, should fill out an application form at the festival’s website diversecityfest.com.