The largest Ukrainian festival in North America happens in my neighbourhood. In Bloor West Village in Toronto. This year it was held on the weekend of the 12th to 14th of September. Canadian-Ukrainian journalist Yury Klufas began the tradition 18 years ago.
He wanted to celebrate the fact that so many Ukrainians live in Toronto, to share the heritage. And it just grew. There’s a parade, musicians, artisans, vendors, food, book stalls. A few streets get closed off to traffic, public transit is re-routed to allow pedestrians to enjoy. Politicians from all levels of government come to the official parts, looking for Ukrainian votes.
This year there was a special Maidan exhibit. It was organized by the people who have been following political events in Ukraine and organizing support actions since last November.
Among other things, they reconstructed a version of the ‘yolka,’ that I’d seen on it’s last legs in Kyiv in the summer, and has since been moved. ‘Oh, that’s where it’s gone,’ wrote my poet friend Volodymyr from Kyiv when I posted a photo of the TO ‘yolka’ on Facebook.
I was a bit worried that the unexpected cold snap and rain predictions might mean that fewer people would show up to the festival this year. And with war continuing in eastern Ukraine, perhaps some would not be in a festive mood.
But the streets were packed. As before, people came from near and far. The first person I bumped into was my friend Dennis. He’s driven a few hundred kilometres from Ottawa, as he does every year for the festival.
There was an Open University this year too, organized by EuroMaidan Toronto. They also put out a piano, photos, films, and tires.
Musicians from Ukraine are always invited to perform at the festival. On Friday night the Mukachevo band Rock-H was the musical headliner. I caught part of their performance with my friend Ira who’s originally from Chortkiv.
The food was great, and diverse. The first day I opted for gourmet varenyky, slightly overpriced but delicious. On the second day, rushing from my lecture at the Open University to meet my favourite nephew, who’d come in from St. Catherine’s, I chose lobster poutine from our local fish and chips place. They were doing a festival promotion.
On the way I’d been stopped by journalist Andriy Holovatyi. “I’d like to ask you about Hromadske Radio, among other things,’ he said. ‘They’re doing really interesting things and I’d like to hear more.”
So I chatted with him in a sound booth on the street that was being live streamed. Around us sounds of music floated past Some people were talking politics while others enjoying drinks. As people do at festivals.