Betty Wulff and Calvin Yzerman in front of the Laft Hus in Red Deer’s Heritage Square. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer group is pushing to create a local ‘international village’ to promote unity

A city made up of immigrants has no place for intolerance, say group members

Disheartened by inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment, a Red Deer group wants to revive a decades-old plan to start an international village in the city.

It’s time to remind people where their descendants came from — and how various cultures make up the fabric of central Alberta, says group member Betty Wulff, of the city’s Norwegian Laft Hus Society.

“It’s time to go back and be proud of what your parents and grandparents did to get you here,” she added.

Wulff has been approached over the years by various groups who wonder how the Norwegians managed to establish the Laft Hus, a traditional grass-on-the-roof building, that’s a cultural hub in Red Deer’s Heritage Square.

Programs drawing on old-world Norwegian traditions are offered there — from learning hardanger embroidery and rosemaling painting to folk singing and dancing and the sale of Norwegian treats and woolens.

Wulff tells people that the original idea was to create an international village in Red Deer, where various heritage groups could erect their own buildings as a way of keeping traditions alive.

This 1970s concept gradually lost steam as Red Deer’s Cultural Heritage Society took on big projects, such as moving Cronquist House to Bower Ponds and establishing Festival Hall, she said.

But with all the anti-immigrant/refugee sentiment being stirred up south of the border and spilling into Alberta, Wulff believes it’s timely to revisit the village idea. She’s supported by a dozen or so other Red Deer residents who hail from different backgrounds.

Many local cultural groups from European backgrounds are “fading” as grandchildren and great-grandchildren start identifying less from where they are descended and more as Canadians, said Wulff.

But she believes newer immigrants from Asia and Latin America would have more interest in keeping their cultures going by being part of an international village.

Her group is planning to apply for non-profit status, with the mandate of seeking private donations and government grants for a large enough land parcel.

Wulff admitted Heritage Square would be too small for a cultural village.

Calvin Yzerman, whose wife is from the Philippines, said members of the local Filipino community are interested in being represented.

Mexican-Norwegian brothers Gonzalo and Bernardo Franco believe the Latin community would get on board.

Eileen McKee, who’s of Japanese heritage, can see starting a Japanese garden in the village, similar to one in Lethbridge.

Most Japanese Central Albertans are now third generation, she says, “but we need to have a start in unifying the world by sharing cultural stories that show how all of us have the same aspirations.”

The group plans to grow support by reaching out to other residents at the farmers’ market this summer. Anyone interested can learn more from the Red Deer International Village Facebook page.

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Betty Wulff (centre) chairs a meeting in the Laft Hus about starting an international village in Red Deer. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

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