35,000 crowd North America's largest Ukrainian street festival

by Jurij Klufas

TORONTO - Up to 35,000 eager visitors came out to participate in the fifth annual Bloor West Village Ukrainian Festival held on Friday and Saturday September 21-22.

Friday night was completely rained out but beautiful sunshine greeted the festival's parade on Saturday morning. This year's parade marshal, Hollywood TV actress Mimi Kuzyk, led the parade along Toronto's major thoroughfare, riding in a vintage Cadillac covertable. After her came 45 colorful parade entries with over 1,000 fun-loving participants. Thanks to the fact that this was the first year that the festival, presented by Kontakt Television, was held in September there was a huge children's contingent in the parade.

Festival coordinator Olya Grod said she was extremely impressed with this year's turnout: "This was the biggest parade yet. The main factor was that in addition to the annual regular entries such as the trainful of kids organized by the Ukrainian Toronto School Board, this year we had the St. Sofia Ukrainian day school, the Saturday Tsiopa Palijiw Ukrainian School, as well as four junior soccer teams of ST Ukraina."

By noon there were already over 15,000 people crowding the huge specially constructed 40-by-30-foot stage on Bloor Street and eagerly awaiting the festival's opening ceremonies. The official ribbon-cutting was performed by Ms. Kuzyk flanked by the festival's special guest, Mayor Vasyl Kuybida of Lviv and the president of the area's Business Improvement Association, Alex Ling. After the traditional rendering of Canada's and Ukraine's national anthems the Baturyn Orchestra and Band also performed the American anthem in remembrance of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

Mayor Kuibida, was visibly impressed by the masses of people all through the festival area, noting in his address to festival attendees: "It's amazing to see so many Ukrainians together - far away from Ukraine and still proud of their heritage."

The end of the official ceremonies marked the beginning of the festival's two all-day concerts. Thanks to annual corporate sponsors, Northland Power and Acuity Investment Management, and this year's first-time entry, Western Union, the festival management was able to commission the construction of two stages set up in different areas of the festival site.

The festival stage manager, Zoriana Grod, had her hands full coordinating the various groups and their performance schedules: "This year we have 35 different performance groups with, I guess, about 200 performers. These are terriffic performers from all over: local Toronto ensembles, Canada-wide, the U.S.A. as well as Ukraine: Pikardiiska Tertsia came all the way from Lviv to perform here, and they really got the crowd going. They were fabulous!"

Very moving were the afternoon and evening special tributes performed by violin virtuoso Vasyl Popadiuk in remembrance of the victims of the recent tragedies in the United States. The festival has a special connection with Mr. Popadiuk, since five years ago the first Festival stage presentation featured his premiere performance in North America.

Meanwhile, throughout the festival's six-block site, other activities entertained guests. In order to accommodate whole families, a greatly expanded area was set up as a children's midway with multiple rides, games and the obligatory candy floss. Approximately 40 kiosks were arranged as a great shopping delight in a "yarmarok" (bazaar) area by vendors from both sides of the border selling their colorful arts and crafts, T-shirts, dolls, home furnishings, children's books, etc.

A major cultural achievement for the festival this year was the establishment of the " Be Ukrainian for a Day" pavilion. Festival manager Raya Shadursky said she felt that this was a very conscious and significant move for the festival: "We are very proud to welcome St. Vladimir Institute as the sponsor and producer of our new pavilion 'Be Ukrainian for a Day.' This pavilion showcased the multiple achievements of the Ukrainian community and its individuals on the Canadian scene as well as its colourfull heritage. Our festival is one of the few festivals that really focuses on true culture."

A very significant aspect of the festival is the social scene, and this was where Ms. Shadursky said the growth of the festival was most evident. "Everything just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year," she observed. "This year our newest food and beverage sponsors, Cheemo Varenyky and Slavutych Ukrainian beer, were a great hit, with everything sold out before the end of the night. Everybody just wanted to be in the beer garden, not just for the beer but to meet and chat with friends whom they saw last week or those they hadn't seen for 10 years."

The co-host of the evening's gala cabaret concert, Victor Malarek, explained: "What I think is the most significant about this festival is that it brings together both young and old, teenagers and the middle-aged, those who just came over from Ukraine and those like me who were born here."

The festival involves and brings everybody together. Upon being asked about coming out to the festival, community members invariably responded: "Of course we're coming." One festival-goer noted: "My biggest personal thrill was when my daughter, Sofia, while skipping home after the festival, joyously exclaimed: 'Tatu, it's fun to be Ukrainian!' "

This year the festival began a long-term community partership with the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko and the local hospital, St. Joseph's Health Center. Ola Grod expressed very positive feelings about this new approach to community involvement: "St. Joseph's had a beautiful exhibit and did all kinds of entertaining, from face-painting for kids to free blood tests for adults. In addition, we are also very pleased with the continued great support from our community seniors: 'Suspilna Sluzhba' has been involved with the festival since day one, and this year their fund-raising project was the biggest ever."

The evening's highlight was a fashion show featuring over 20 modern designs by fashion couturieres Iryna and Natalka Baraniuk form the Vesna Fashion House in Lviv. The festival chairman (this writer) saw their designs during a fashion show in Lviv in April, and decided that they should be shown in Toronto at the festival.

The fashion show was followed by one of the festival's feature attractions the evening gala cabaret co-hosted by a former festival parade marshal and Canada's "Queen of Comedy" Luba Goy, along with one of Canada's premiere journalists, Mr. Malarek. The evening featured a door prize of two round-trip business-class tickets to Ukraine graciously donated by the festival's perennial sponsor, Air Ukraine.

The concert presented excellent performances by the Desna and Ukraina Dance ensembles from Toronto, modern Ukrainian rock renditions by Roman Klun from Stoney Creek, assorted pop melodies by the Zahrava band, Toronto soloist Tania Ostapovich, Mr. Popadiuk performing numbers from his newly released CD as well as an extended appearance by the six-person vocal ensemble Pikardijska Tertsia of Lviv.

After the gala concert the 200 festival's house band, Dunai, took over the stage and let loose with great dance melodies as the festival ended with a "Zabava Street Dance."

Planning is already in place for the 2002 festival, and the set dates are Friday and Saturday, September 13-14.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 14, 2001, No. 41, Vol. LXIX

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