By Kris Ontong
Steinbach held its 51st Annual Pioneer Days this August long weekend, in celebration of the city’s history and rich heritage founded by Mennonite pioneers. The festivities kicked off with a parade along Main Street on Friday, August 2. As in previous years, a huge crowd lined the west-bound lane sidewalk and center island, braving the scorching 34 °C morning weather to watch a caravan of 120 colorful floats and parade vehicles go by.
Among the participants is the South Eastman Filipino Association or SEMFA, representing the roughly 2,000 Filipino newcomers residing in and around the city. SEMFA council officers led by Vice President Marlon Calakhan led the contingent with a delegation of players from the Association’s Junior Basketball League. Right behind them was SEMFA’s multicolored float which was adorned with an assortment of cultural motifs of the different Philippine regions. Aboard the float were young kababayan garbed in various regional costumes. In a statement on the Association’s Facebook Group, SEMFA President Rommel Clamor praised the efforts of cultural director Ruel Namuco for conceptualizing and implementing the design of the parade float.
The throng of onlookers that lined Main Street included senior couple Paulina and Rollie Yparraguirre who flew in from the Philippines to visit family. “We arrived on July 2nd so we missed Summer in the City and the Canada Day celebrations,” according to the Yparraguirres. After watching the parade, Rollie was visibly impressed and remarked, “We’re flying home on Sunday. We’re so glad we stayed around for this event!”
The Steinbach Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual event. Typically, outstanding parade entrants earn recognition based on how well they interpreted the theme. This year however, the overall theme was dropped in favor of the four categories: Most Creative, Best Animal, Best Historical, and Judges’ Choice. Old Church Bakery won for Most Creative for dressing up as hippies holding placards that said things like ‘make bread, not war’ while walking alongside their 70’s-era van. Kismet Creek Farm — a sanctuary for farm animals — won for Best Animal, Best Historical went to the Mennonite Heritage Village, and The Day’s Inn bagged the Judges’ Choice award for their float that featured characters from Disney’s ‘Frozen.’
Kris Ontong is the past president of the South Eastman Filipino Association (SEMFA) and is an awardee of the 2019 Filipino-Canadian Heritage Month Award for his role in the Filipino community.