Diversity and multiculturalism—two words intimately associated with Canada. They are core values Canadians cherish.

Or do they?

A survey by pollster Angus Reid, last fall found that Canadians are actually less likely than Americans to agree that cultural diversity should be encouraged, and that immigrants should maintain their languages and customs. Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians surveyed said minorities should do more to fit in, compared to 53 per cent of Americans.

As our country celebrates Canada 150, it’s time to reconnect with that which makes our country great: our cultural diversity. We know intuitively that contact with people from different backgrounds and experiences than our own fosters understanding and friendship across cultural barriers. So how do we help strengthen Canada’s cultural mosaic by increasing intercultural interaction?

Summer in Canada is chock full of events celebrating different cultures—from Calgary’s Turkish Festival, to Winnipeg’s Manito Ahbee Festival, to the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. But there’s much more we can do to connect with our national diversity beyond spending a day noshing samosas or bannock, while watching parades and dance exhibitions.

We asked experts: How can we encourage Canadians, especially young people, to experience our country’s rich cultural diversity and get to know each other’s religions and cultures?


Brian Carwana, Executive Director of Encounter World Religions Centre in Guelph, Ont.

“We should teach religion in schools, not confessionally, but factually so as to promote religiously literate citizens (as is done in Britain). However, there is simply no substitute for actually visiting houses of worship and meeting community leaders. Once you have been inside a temple, a mosque, a synagogue, maybe shared a meal and had a conversation or two, the stereotyping recedes very fast.”


Françoise Gagnon, former executive director of the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC) in Ottawa

“Encourage your children and students to participate in a reciprocal exchange, which will open the doors and windows to many other places in Canada, and help break down barriers among youth from different cultures, backgrounds and parts of the country. Exchanges are an unparalleled way to provide youth with a broader understanding of their Canadian identity, which is critical to our social fabric.”


Theresa Anzovino, professor of sociology at Niagara College in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“Hear others’ stories. In our classroom, we bring in former students to share their personal narratives—as a gay teen, first-generation immigrant or homeless person, for example. The audience learns that while the speakers’ experiences may be different, there is much about their lives that are also the ‘same’ as theirs. They have made contact, and the ‘other’ is now another student just like them.”


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