Unity in Diversity: Althea Alli
Shelburne resident Althea Alli is the driving force behind Shelburne’s multicultural events, and the Dufferin County Multicultural Festival.
Althea Alli grew up in a world where multiculturalism was the norm. With Guyanese roots, she was raised in Toronto and Brampton, but her extended family was a mélange of backgrounds, including Indian, Chinese and Portuguese. “My nickname growing up was ‘United Nations,’” she laughs. “Looking at us, you’d never know we were all related.”
In 2013, Althea and her young family made the decision to move to Shelburne. Making the transition from large, diverse cities like Toronto and Brampton was a challenge at first, but the move ultimately spurred Althea to spearhead a number of community initiatives and become a driving force behind Shelburne’s multicultural events.
She began reaching out by hosting markets so local businesses grounded in various cultures could connect with the community, and she became involved in the town’s fall fair board and the Fiddle Parade. She also spent time at her children’s school, volunteering in the classroom and talking to kids about diversity and inclusion.
Then in 2017 she approached Shelburne council and pitched the idea of a multicultural festival. “The first one was … small,” she chuckles, describing how the 2018 event was held in one room in the town library. “But the following year I needed a bigger space because so many people wanted to participate. The size had doubled!”
After going online for two years because of the pandemic, the event was back in person this past June – and bigger and better than ever. Held at the Museum of Dufferin, the celebration saw the rolling hills of Mulmur come alive with the sounds of Caribbean steelpan and African drums, classical dances from India, performances by Scottish and Irish dancers, and more. The event brought together people from across Dufferin County who trace their roots to many places around the world, as well as representatives of Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. There was even a cricket match.
“I was just blown away that so many people wanted to share their culture, their art, their music, their food,” Althea explains. “It was an incredible day. I remember after the festival was done, I sat back with my mom and I got quite emotional, saying how one little idea, one humble beginning can grow and touch so many lives. I was very honoured.”
Althea was delighted when the event was named the 2022 winner of the award for creative cultural event at Orangeville’s annual Arts and Culture Awards, and she has no doubt the festival will continue to grow and flourish As evidence of that commitment, Alli’s endeavour became a registered non-profit, the Dufferin County Multicultural Foundation, in 2022.
Althea, a former youth shelter director, ultimately does this for her family, so they can feel at home as they grow up in Shelburne and Headwaters. “I don’t want my children or any children to feel like outsiders in their own community,” she says. “Everybody should be able to feel a sense of pride and respect. That is my number 1 motivator. I want diversity to be seen as something to celebrate, and a great way to do that is through food, art and entertainment. Rhythm, music and food are a common language that every country understands. It’s what unites us!”