TORONTO – The Ukrainian Canadian Congress Toronto Branch (UCC-Toronto) welcomed over 12,000 people to the 26th annual Ukrainian Independence Day celebration on Saturday, August 19, at Centennial Park in Toronto for what is the largest such celebration in North America and the diaspora.
The 2017 Independence Day celebration marked not only over a quarter century of Ukraine’s independent statehood, but also commemorated Canada’s 150th anniversary.
The event was a huge success: there was record attendance and a full day of festivities and entertainment.
The stage program commenced with opening prayers conducted by clergy from the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. This was followed by a warm welcome from the UCC-Toronto President Taras Bahriy, and special greetings from Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko and Consul General Andrii Veselovskyi.
Mr. Bahriy reiterated that “Ukraine is still in a real war, regardless of who is calling it what… but we will overcome and defeat our enemy because truth and God are on our side.” He also proudly recalled the words of Ukraine’s president, who said that “Toronto is the largest Ukrainian City outside of the boundaries of Ukraine,” whose residents are true Ukrainian patriots who continue to fight for Ukraine’s sustained independence.
The celebration was attended by many government representatives. Among the Federal representatives offering greetings and showing support for the independence of Ukraine were the Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, Members of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Arif Virani, James Maloney, Peter Fonseca, Peter Kent, and Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Ms. Duncan, announcing that she is yet another proud Ukrainian Canadian, proclaimed that “the Canadian government stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine.” She read greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who affirmed that, “since its pivotal independence in 1991, Ukraine and Canada have forged a strong relationship based on common values and shared ambitions” and gave thanks “for the enormous contributions Ukrainian Canadians have made to Canada’s success.”
Mr. Scheer, wearing a “vyshyvanka,” or embroidered shirt, reiterated that “the unceasing attack on the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine by the Putin regime will not be forgotten… and the illegal annexation of Crimea will not be accepted.” He also reminded his audience that “our previous Conservative government adopted the widest list of sanctions on Russia of any country in the world… and continues to stand with Ukraine against Putin’s aggression.”
Present from the Ontario government were Members of Provincial Parliament Dave Levac, speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly; Yvan Baker; and Ted Arnott, representing Conservative Party leader Patrick Brown.
Mr. Levac expressed his heartfelt thanks to Ukraine for standing up against evil and recognized that “for 600 years Ukraine has had someone else’s boot on its neck, but has still survived, still gone forward and still represents good on the planet.” Mr. Levac then presented the UCC Toronto president with a scroll from the Ontario Legislature commemorating this event and thanking its organizers and supporters.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, also in a vyshyvanka, acknowledged how valuable it was for UCC to honor young students with awards for the Holodomor essay competition (presented earlier) and how important it was to “teach these lessons of history… to make sure that these lessons are never forgotten.” He also mentioned that he was very proud to have finalized the location for the Holodomor memorial in the heart of the city.
Mayor Tory offered congratulations to the Ukrainian community for its “contributions in public office, in business and in the professions… to the well-being and building of the biggest city in Canada, which also has the largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world,” and stated that he will continue to stand with the Ukrainian community. He was joined on stage by Councilors John Campbell and Stephen Holyday, as well as Oakville Councilor Natalia Lishchyna.
Markian Shwec brought greetings from Paul Grod, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. A large group of diverse guests voiced their continued support and congratulations to the Ukrainian Canadian community.
The afternoon was emceed by Larysa Bajus and Myron Konyk.
The vibrant concert program included a variety of local Ukrainian dance and musical performers, as well as special guest artists from Ukraine. The enthusiastic audience was entertained by Toronto’s renowned dance ensembles – Barvinok, Kalyna and Ukraina, the Baturyn Marching and Concert Band, and the Prometheus Choir. Among the celebrated guest entertainers from Ukraine were the musical Ensemble Otawa from Ternopil, soloists Myroslava Solovyanenko, Pavlo Fondera, Ihor and Adrianna Artemiak. Mad Heads frontman Vadym Krasnooky from Kyiv delighted the audience with his performance.
The concert was capped off by the Zirka finalists’ performance from the competition “Ukrainian Star,” sponsored by Buduchnist Credit Union.
A large classroom bus displaying and teaching the history of the Holodomor was a moving attraction for those desiring to learn about the 1932-1933 Ukrainian Famine-Genocide. The UCC Toronto Euromaidan Committee and the Canada Helps Ukraine booths showcased a poignant photo display of life in Ukraine today – soldiers, families, children, and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. Attendees were moved to make donations to assist those in need in Ukraine.
At the shopping bazaar, food and market vendors offered their many wares to an eager crowd. As always, through the generous support of the Zaraska Family, the Ukrainian Canadian School Board provided a robust children’s amusement center that included inflatables, games and crafts.
The day was concluded with a lively outdoor dance, sponsored by Ukrainian Credit Union, during which a capacity crowd of revelers danced to the music and antics of “DJ Unlisted” well into the night.
“This annual celebration could not have happened without the help and support of many valued volunteers and our generous sponsors,” said Mr. Bahriy. The Platinum Plus sponsor for 2017 was Northland Power; Platinum sponsors were Buduchnist Credit Union, Horodynsky Farms, Ukrainian Credit Union, and the Zaraska Family; and there were many other gold and silver sponsors, as well as media sponsors.
Six months of untiring work by the UCC-Toronto Independence Day organizing committee and an amazing team of hard-working volunteers who began work on Friday to set up the event, ran it all day Saturday, and then completed the take-down and clean-up on Sunday, were invaluable to the smooth functioning, viability and great success of this event.
UCC-Toronto is a not-for-profit umbrella association with 57 member organizations that coordinates and represents the Ukrainian Canadian community to ensure its continued and cohesive development within Canada’s socio-cultural fabric.
For more information about the event and UCC-Toronto, readers may visit www.ucctoronto.ca.