Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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St. John's Tombolo Multicultural Festival

Location: St. John's, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Community Arts Program
Amount Funded: $5,000

Atlantic Union, a St. John’s based acoustic trio that includes Dan Rubin, Sally Goddard, and Jane Ogilvie.

Festival Dates: July 7 to 9, 2017
Festival Contact: Dr. Zainab Jerrett
Festival Website:
Festival E-mail:

The Tombolo Multicultural Festival of Newfoundland and Labrador was first established in 2009, getting started as a multicultural community event in Ferryland. By 2012, the organization was incorporated, and became formally known under its current name.

The festival and organization’s name, “tombolo” is an Italian word that refers to a sand bar or sediment that connects one island to another landmass. Festival organizers felt the name was a perfect metaphor for what they wanted their event to stand for – bringing people, communities, and cultures together.

The annual festival continued to be held at the Southern Shore Folk Arts Council building in Ferryland up until 2013, when it had grown to a size well suited to the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, where it has been held ever since.

The organization’s growth and recognition of the work they do was acknowledged on another level when they were asked to plan and coordinate the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Para Pan Am Games’ satellite community celebrations held in St. John’s. Those events were funded by two federal departments – Canadian Heritage and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.


The organization has a commitment to support and promote tangible and intangible cultural heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. And so to further build on successes found in Ferryland and St. John’s, in 2016 events were in Brigus, Cupids, and Carbonear to mark the first annual Conception Bay Multicultural Event.

The main festival that started it all continues to be held in St. John’s each July and always encompasses music, dance, arts and crafts, alongside a smorgasbord of world foods. Over fifteen local musicians, dance groups, and heritage performers are usually invited to perform at that festival each year. The St. John’s Tombolo Festival also includes opportunities for artisans, craft, and food vendors to exhibit and sell their products over the course of the multi-day event.

The festival is a key happening for many new Canadians, immigrants and international students. They are able to see, experience, and learn about Newfoundland and Labrador culture in a festive atmosphere. Participation from these community populations also adds to the overall value of the multicultural festival, and a truly international exchange of unique cultures and artistic talents freely takes place.

In our latest feature, we chat with festival director, Dr. Zainab Jerrett, to learn more…

Q and A with Dr. Zainab Jerrett...

ArtsNL: This year’s St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival just took place from July 7 to 9, how did it go this year?

Zainab: It went very well. We had big turnout at each of the festival activities. Evidently the St. John's Tombolo Multicultural Festival is growing and is now a popular and sought after community multicultural event in the city.

ArtsNL: What were some of the workshops that took place at this year’s festival, who led them and how well were they attended?

Zainab: The multicultural workshops covered a wide range of topics:

  1. Artistic Inspirations of an Immigrant Author – presented by Uchechi Ezeuko. She has written three books including a children's book.
  2. Multicultural Food and the Negotiations of Belonging – presented by Dr. Diane Tye who is a Folklore professor at Memorial University.
  3. Tastes of the World included discussions and sampling of ethnic food from around the world, and was presented by Multi  Ethnic Food Kitchen.
  4.  Learning and Experiencing Inuit Drumming and Dance was an interactive presentation by Solomon Semigak and Stan Nochasak, from the Inuit Drumming and Dance Group in St. John's.
  5. Traditional Soap Making was presented by Krista Elliott who is the owner and proprietor of St. John's Soap Works.

H'Sao performing


ArtsNL: Can you tell us a little bit more about the multicultural variety show that was planned for this year’s festival, and who performed in it?

Zainab: The Multicultural Variety Concert truly lived up to its name. We had a variety of cultural performances that featured local and immigrant performers.  The groups and individual artists that were showcased included Atlantic Union, a St. John’s based acoustic trio that includes Dan Rubin, Sally Goddard, and Jane Ogilvie; two sisters, Dakshita Jagota and Devanshi Jagota, who perform semi-classical East Indian dance; a pair of Inuit drummers named Solomon Semigak and Stan Nochasak; the nationally acclaimed and award winning Nick Earle and Joseph Coffin; Chilean acoustic solo artist Danilo Gonzalez who performed a mixture of rock, blues, folk, and Latin music; Hazel Alpuerto and Devina Moralese who performed Filipino folk dances; storyteller Dale Jarvis; and an international gospel choir.

ArtsNL: There were also a few author readings and a storyteller involved in the festival, can you talk a little be about those events?

Zainab: Mrs. Uchechi Ezeuko, a St. John's based immigrant author read from her three books at the Multicultural Workshops on July 8. Dale Jarvis, who is well known in St. John's for his amazing storytelling skills, told stories at the Multicultural Variety Concert on July 9.

ArtsNL: The events that took place in Conception Bay were billed as annual, and the second one is listed on your website – can you talk about this series of events, and why it’s important for your group to organize them for these communities?

Zainab: Yes the Conception Bay Multicultural Event is a new annual event. We started it last year, following our tradition of organizing multicultural events in rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador starting in Ferryland in 2009. The goal of the Conception Bay Multicultural Event is to create opportunities for new immigrants to meet, interact and share their cultures with people in rural communities and vice versa. The annual event is partly funded by Canadian Heritage from the Events Inter-Action and Multiculturalism Grant Program.

drumdancing performance

Solomon Semigak and Stan Nochasak.

ArtsNL: How have both the St. John’s Tombolo Festival, and the Conception Bay Multicultural Event, grown in the last few recent years?

Zainab: The annual St. John's Tombolo Multicultural Festival has grown a lot. When we first started it in 2012 it was held in the Barbara Barrett Basement Theatre at the Arts and Culture Centre. The attendance was just modest.  But now thousands of people attend the festival over the course of the three days. We also now have a greater variety of activities for all ages. Earlier we only had multicultural concerts. There were no multicultural workshops and we didn’t have the Food and Craft Fair, as we do now.

ArtsNL: How do all of these events and festivals come together? What is and who are involved?

Zainab: The planning and organization for all our events and festivals is done by a dedicated Tombolo Multicultural Festival of Newfoundland and Labrador Board of Directors, our staff, and volunteers. Most importantly they are made possible and successful because of the funding we receive from the Government of Canada, ArtsNL (Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council), the City of St. John’s, and the Community Sector Council. Our local community partner organizations also play important roles in helping us to successfully organize the events and the festival and they include the Arts and Culture Centre, the Association for New Canadian’s, Memorial University International Student Advising Office, Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador, the African Network Association, and Association francophone communautaire de St-Jean.

dancing performance

Dakshita Jagota and Devanshi Jagota.

ArtsNL: How can people become involved with your organization or its events if they would like to?

Zainab: People can contact us if they want to become involved with our organization. Our contact information is on our website:

ArtsNL: What are some of the challenges faced when putting together multifaceted events and festivals organized by your group and how are they overcome?

Zainab: It’s a lot of work and takes many months to plan and organize the events and festivals. Many hands and brains are needed to pull everything off. Getting enough funding is also a challenge even though we do get some funding support. We try to overcome our challenges by working as a team, by recruiting many volunteers from the community and the MUN international student population. Financially, we try to be frugal but at the same time not reduce the quality and quantity of our festival activities.

Nick Earle and Joseph Coffin

Nick Earle and Joseph Coffin.

ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Community Arts Program help the St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival organization continue to develop and achieve its goals? And, why is the funding important?

Zainab: Funding from the ArtsNL Community Arts Program has been very helpful. I cannot stress this enough.  Not only does it fill a huge gap for us financially, we also get the funding relatively early. We always rely on the funding given to us in our early stages from ArtsNL to pay for some of the approved expenses incurred during the initial organizing of the St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival. Also, other funding partners - especially Canadian Heritage - usually ask us if we have received funding from other sources. When we tell Canadian Heritage that we have received funding from ArtsNL this increases the chance of getting our grant application approved by Canadian Heritage.

ArtsNL: What are some of your favourite moments or highlights from this year’s (or previous) events/festival that you will remember?

Zainab: Some of my favourite moments from this year’s St. John`s Tombolo Multicultural Festival were:

  1. Seeing the Arts and Culture Centre theatre filled with people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds for the evening concert on July 7 that featured Montreal based Chadian band H`SAO.
  2. Seeing a little girl and a Chinese international student doing Inuit drumming and dancing at the Multicultural Workshops.
  3. Seeing local Newfoundlanders enjoying the food they bought from immigrant food vendors at the Multicultural Food and Craft Fair.
  4. Seeing the big crowd enjoying the Multicultural Variety Concert on July 9.
  5. Seeing children wearing beautiful face painting and henna tattoos at the festival.
  6. Seeing each of the festival activities we planned actually taking place. This is also one of my favourite moments in our previous years’ events and festivals.

ArtsNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Zainab: I just want to thank ArtsNL for giving our organization ‘life saving’ financial support for the St. John’s Tombolo Multicultural Festival. And thank you to for telling our story through this profile. Greatly appreciated.