The Quest for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton
Ever since my family arrived in Edmonton from Manila, I have consistently heard random comments and yearning for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. It is not difficult to imagine the benefits of having a venue uniquely catering to, and reflective of, the Filipino community - having a “home base” to interact and socialize with fellow kababayans; a resource and programs centre for Philippine art and culture; and an infrastructure legacy and monument of, for, and by, the Filipino.
Edmonton did have a Filipino centre before. In 1984, the Philippine Bayanihan Association in Alberta purchased a building on a ¾ acres of prime land by 12520 135 Avenue for the Filipino Canadian Community Centre. However, it was sold in 1995 due to the cost of maintaining the building. To date, the other Filipino centres in Canada that I know of are: the Filipino Centre in Toronto; the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture in Toronto; the Filipino Community Centre in Windsor, Ontario; the Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre in Victoria, BC; the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba in Winnipeg; and the Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary.
With the declaration of Philippine Heritage Month both provincially and federally, it is an importune time to revisit the goal of a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. After a consultation with Minister Amarjeet Sohi where the Minister committed to assist in the establishment of the centre, community leaders met to brainstorm on the vision, governance model, and feasibility of an Edmonton Philippine centre. There was commonality in the thought that this can only be realized with the community working together rather than in silos. An offshoot of that meeting was a survey that was released to gauge the Filipino community’s interest, current utilization of rented facilities, wish list, and thoughts for making the establishment of a Philippine centre a reality. Is it really possible? The sentiment in that meeting was of optimism and enthusiasm. But there are also naysayers who declare that this has been tried several times in the past and therefore, this current initiative is doomed for the same failure. But do we remain shackled in the past and keep this as a pipe dream, or do we learn from these experiences and dream big?
Let’s do the math. Edmonton alone, I believe has 30+ Filipino organizations. If we sum up the amount each organization, and in some cases individuals, spend on venue rentals for various activities, and allocate these to one centre, there is a strong possibility that this can cover at the minimum, monthly rent or mortgage for a dedicated facility. The most recent census revealed that there are 60,000+ Filipinos in Edmonton. Let’s look at a scenario where, even if just 20% of the 60,000 Filipinos donate just $1 a month to a building fund, that would already yield $12,000/month already. These are some schemes that can be worked within the community, in addition to the efforts to advocate and apply for funding from different levels of government. Money, as it turns out, may not be the biggest obstacle after all.
And here lies the challenge. For in order to build and to sustain a Philippine centre, we all, collectively, need a paradigm shift. I believe that we all know what it would take to make this a reality (i.e. accountability, transparency, credibility), but the bigger challenge is, will we do what needs to be done? And so I will pose the questions with the hope that this will galvanize us to be united in our goal. What would it take for us to work collaboratively in the spirit of servant leadership and trust? Do we have what it takes to focus on long term goals and veer away from trivialities? There is undoubtedly no individual financial gain, personal aggrandizement, and special entitlements in this initiative but the community legacy is immense. It is an initiative of selflessness, volunteerism, dedication and perseverance.
In Toronto, there were several attempts since the 1970s, by the Filipino community to build a centre. They were able to purchase a property in 2002 for The Filipino Centre, 18 months after the group’s launch. Community leaders in Windsor convened in 1992, opened a centre in 1993, and in 2014, opened an expanded and improved Filipino Community Centre. The Bayanihan Centre in Victoria, supported by several Filipino organizations, raised funds since 1990, and was finally established in 2001 after acquiring a provincial grant and a credit-union mortgage. The Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary, sitting in a 2,750 square feet condominium property, took five years of hard work to fulfill their dream in 2001. The Filipino community in Winnipeg had the foresight to establish their Philippine centre way back in 1984 and have since then moved to a bigger location, sustained by continuous fundraising and volunteering.
It’s high time for an Edmonton Philippine centre. Each one of us has the capacity to contribute for this cultural monument and legacy project. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” So to all Filipinos and those of Filipino descent in Edmonton, shall we?
* This article was published in the March 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.