Imagine spending most of your life in a big city, somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, in Africa or the Philippines. Now imagine you’ve just emigrated to Canada, and a few days after your arrival you’re off to volunteer at a local festival in rural Manitoba on the shores of the world’s tenth largest lake.
As you drive north out of Winnipeg, you’ve never seen such vast tracts of farmland; never waded into a body of water the size of Lake Winnipeg; never encountered the sights and sounds of a small town music and art festival on the prairies.
That was the experience for dozens of new Canadians in the summer of 2012.
It all started in the spring of that same year, when Fran Taylor & Jana McKee of the Seven Oaks School Division were looking for a way to expose their clients from the Seven Oaks Immigrant Services to a Canadian experience.
What was more Canadian than a music festival? What was more Winnipeg than heading to the beaches just north of the city?
With that, Taylor and McKee wrote a proposal that incorporated a variety of experiences over what was sure to be a memorable weekend. That was the beginning of the partnership between Seven Oaks School Division and the Matlock Festival of Music, Art & Nature.
That first year was magical!
A bus load of people arrived ready to participate in a Canadian summer music event, to learn about the 45-acre Matlock Festival site, to help set up tents, paint signs, prepare the land for the festival and to be introduced to Lake Winnipeg in all its glory and its dangers. There were lifeguards, canoes and a beautiful sunny day.
The whole weekend was a transformative adventure for the visitors and the hosts, a learning experience for everyone and a way for new immigrants to connect to Canadians and a Canadian way of life.
Fast forward to 2015 and the Immigrant Services from Seven Oaks School Division is even more entrenched in the Matlock Festival fabric. Aside from the 60-70 volunteers who have come out each year, there is a whole group who help prepare food for volunteers and artists the week prior to the fest.
One sign of success is there are several families volunteering for the 3rd or 4th year in a row, and like many Canadians or Manitobans who plan their lives around the festivals they volunteer at, this group is no exception.
For one family, this is particularly evident as they have gone back to India to see family for the first time in five years but were adamant to book their flight home so they could volunteer at the Matlock Festival of Music, Art and Nature, August 28-30, 2015 at Ash Avenue in Matlock, MB.
“It has evolved into a mutually beneficial experience for our Seven Oaks group and the Festival,” says Taylor.
“I think it has grown far beyond the introduction to a Canadian experience that Jana and I envisioned back in 2012. They are now a part of the Canadian experience!”
This heartfelt union has helped Matlock Festival continue the goal of expanding its community, as new immigrants have fallen in love with the event and their volunteer efforts have made their assimilation into the Canadian way of life easier and more enjoyable.