Carassauga: The festival of cultures
By: Vivian Nguyen
Published on: February 06 2023
First established in 1986, Carassauga is Canada’s largest multicultural festival, celebrating multiculturalism in the city of Mississauga. The non-profit, volunteer led organization is an annual three-day event, typically hosted at the end of May. They celebrated their 37th anniversary this year.
Carassauga is a festival where “you get to know your neighbours,” shared Carassauga Chair, Marek Ruta, “the people who live next to you in the city.”
The festival was created in response to former mayor, Hazel McCallion’s challenge to ethno-cultural groups in 1985. “There’s a festival called ‘Caravan’ in Toronto,” said Ruta. “Hazel wanted that in Mississauga as the city grew larger… Now we have over 24 cultures represented at our festival each year.”
Admission tickets: The Carassauga passport
The Carassauga Passport gives visitors unlimited access to the festival during operating hours. Free transportation with MiWay transit to and from the facilities are also included with the Passport during festival hours.
Admission passports are $15 for each guest, except for children 12 years-old and under who get in for free. Your Carassauga Passport allows access to the whole festival at all locations. To purchase food, drinks, or other goods available at the festival, visitors should bring additional cash.
Carassauga 2022 Pavilions were located in different cultural and recreational centres in Mississauga, “giving visitors the opportunity to ‘travel the world’ without leaving the city,” said Ruta. The locations and cultural lineup for 2023 have yet to be confirmed but you can check their website for the 2022 festival, which included cultures from China, Pakistan, Croatia, Vietnam, Peru, Iran, and so much more.
Celebrating Mississauga’s diversity
When he was five-years old, Ruta was a Carassauga performer for the Poland Pavilion. He described the festival as “an amazing celebration of diversity.” Since then, he picked up different roles in the organization, later earning his place as a board member.
“Mississauga has been my home, [I was born and raised here, and my parents immigrated from Poland] so it does mean a lot to me to lead the organization and continue this rich history of celebrating diversity in the city […] I think we need more of that […]”
Ruta also expressed how the festival is built upon pride for one’s culture: “I was always proud of my heritage and my culture,” he said. “Being proud of where you come from and sharing that experience [is what Carassauga is all about].”
One of the ways cultures can be shared is through food. The Festival features many food vendors who each represent their respected countries and cultures.
Stepping into each pavilion is like “entering that country,” said Ruta. “[Through the festival], visitors can experience the world without flying to go there… [You can get a] taste of the world.”
If you want to experience every dish without paying for full portions, consider participating in Toonie Taste. A toonie ($2) pays for sample sizes at participating food vendors. “Taste the world [without breaking] the bank.”
Performances and entertainment
Although Carassauga’s dozens of pavilions are in different areas in the city, its mainstage can be found at Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Here, different communities share 10 stages to put on live performances, including dance and musical numbers.
The festival also has an exclusive opening ceremony where guests can watch exclusive shows and view fireworks the day before the festival officially begins. Admission is free but visitors must register first as spots are limited.
With the help of one of their sponsors, the famous Canadian fast-food chain, Tim Hortons, Carassauga provides young guests (children) a variety of activities, interactive entertainment, and rides. “Kids Zone” grants opportunities for children to meet with the festival mascots, Carra and Missi, and win giveaways.
Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
Ruta shared that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions heavily impacted the Carassauga festival. “As a non-profit,” began Ruta, “we rely heavily on funding from sponsors, the [Canadian] government, and hosting our festival. [Without these factors], we don’t have money to host.”
In place of in-person festivities, Carassauga put on virtual shows and cultural cooking classes. To plan for these events, volunteers had to secure venue spaces, coordinate visuals and audio, and stay on top of editing content. They turned to partnered community groups and social media to recruit performers and culinary talents.
“Last year [in 2021], we did a drive-in festival [where] visitors visited two-hour long shows [in their vehicles].” The concept was similar to a drive-in movie theatre in which guests stay in their vehicles or in their designated areas to watch the show. “It was a success!” said Ruta, proudly.
“We measured our success through visitor feedback, the number of visitors,” and if expenses left enough to ensure everyone who was getting paid, got paid.
Despite their success, Ruta and the Carassauga team plan to return to in-person events soon. “Our festival has a special place in Mississauga,” said Ruta. “It’s something you can’t replace virtually.”
All Carassauga facilities are wheelchair accessible. Ramps and kneeling MiWay busses allow for easier mobility. The festival also offers preferred seating for watching performances and shows, as well as closed captioning on media promotion and content (via YouTube and Facebook).
Interested in getting involved?
As a volunteer community organization, Carassauga is always welcoming new community members who are interested in getting involved. Volunteers can apply for specific jobs such as production assistant for Opening Ceremonies or as festival greeters in the Outdoor Area. Other volunteer responsibilities include venue set up and tear down, customer survey representatives, and more. Currently, Carassauga has over 5 000 volunteers helping with a number of preparations, organization, and facilitation.
“Students, seniors, people who want to get involved, all are welcomed,” encouraged Ruta.
The team will be looking for volunteers for Carassauga 2023 starting in January. Visit their website for more information and updates. (Prospective volunteers must be a minimum of 14 years old.)
Every year, the Carassauga team reaches out to community groups in the city for talents. Applications for acts close at the end of April to allow time for the finalization of plans and scheduling. If you are interested in participating as a performer, get in contact with their office.
From the aroma of food, unique and entertaining performances, and friendly faces, Carassauga is “an amazing celebration of diversity.”
Ruta shared that they have high hopes for returning to in-person festivities next year. They are also expecting new countries to join along with returning countries as the city’s cultural population fluctuates. Visitors should also expect new performances and food, too.
“New things are always happening, and our communities are representative of that,” Ruta said.
“Each year we try to engage our visitors with new and exciting things… [To give them] something new to see, something new to taste.”
Here are the dates for Carassauga 2023:
- Friday, May 26 and Saturday, May 27 (from 8pm to midnight)
- Sunday, May 28 (from 12pm to 7pm)
To learn more or stay up to date with Mississauga’s Festival of Cultures, visit their website or contact their team at email@example.com.