TORONTO – The Toronto Branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC Toronto) welcomed over 10,000 people to the 25th annual Ukrainian Independence Day celebration on Saturday, August 20, at Centennial Park in Toronto. A full day of greetings, festivities and entertainment was enjoyed by all.
This Independence Day celebration marked not only a quarter century of Ukraine’s independent statehood, but also commemorated three additional historical milestones of the Ukrainian Canadian community: the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada, the 160th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Franko, and the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which represents the Ukrainian Canadian community across Canada.
The event was attended not only by thousands of returning visitors, but also by many government representatives who joined the celebration. Mayor John Tory, wearing a “vyshyvanka,” gave inspiring congratulations and further announced the proposed plans for the Holodomor Memorial to be erected in the city of Toronto on the CNE grounds.
“In hearing the remarks from Mayor Tory today, I am very confident that the vision and the dream that was started by the then UCC Toronto Branch President Marika Szkambara over 20 years ago will be fulfilled. The great city of Toronto will have a Holodomor Memorial in a prominent public space, visible and accessible by all – a real tribute to our hromada,” said UCC Past President Oksana Rewa, who is spearheading the Memorial Committee.
The mayor, joined on stage by Councilors John Campbell, Stephen Holyday and Justin Di Ciano, then presented UCC Toronto President Taras Bahriy with a commemorative plaque.
Among the federal and Ontario provincial representatives offering greetings were Liberal MPs Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Julie Dzerowicz, Peter Fonseca, James Maloney, Arif Virani and Iqra Khalid, and Conservative MP Lisa Raitt. Liberal Members of Provincial Parlament, Dave Levac, Yvan Baker, Laurie Scott, and Peter Milczyn took the stage, as did Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Many former MPs were also present, including Conservative Ted Opitz and NDP Peggy Nash. This large group of diverse guests voiced continued support and congratulations to the Ukrainian Canadian community. UCC Toronto board member Bohdan Wynnyckyj provided the introductions.
On behalf of the Ukrainian Canadian community in the greater Toronto area, Mr. Bahriy, who served as master of ceremonies, gave a heartfelt thanks to the Canadian Armed Forces for their tireless work with Operation UNIFIER (the training of Ukrainian troops) and
Operation REASSURANCE (support of NATO assurance measures). The forces were represented at the event by Col. Pat Lemyre, chief of staff of the 4th Canadian Division of the Canadian Army.
The stage program commenced with opening prayers conducted by clergy from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was followed by a warm welcome from the UCC Toronto branch president, and special greetings from Ukraine’s Consul General Andrii Veselovskyi.
The afternoon was emceed by Larysa Bajus and Myron Konyk. This year the very vibrant and colorful concert program was created by Anna Kisil and Lesia Movtchan. The stage show included a variety of local Ukrainian dance and musical performers, as well as special guest artists from Ukraine. The attentive audience was entertained by many renowned dance groups – Arkan, Barvinok, Desna, Ukraina, Vesnianka and Yavir, as well as the Baturyn Marching and Concert Band. Among the celebrated guest entertainers from Ukraine were: the musical ensemble Otawa from Ternopil, the folklore ensemble Rozhanytsia from Kyiv and soloists Myroslava Solovyanenko, Ihor and Adrianna Artemiak, Ruslan Jakoviczuk, and many others. Of note was the finale which saw the audience stand and join the performers in the singing of “A Song for Ukraine.”
The concert was capped off by the Zirka competition – a lovely showcase of young talent 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 Genocide. The UCC Toronto Euro-Maidan Committee 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.
Food and market vendors offered their many wares, and once again Halenda Meats offered free samples to a hungry and appreciative 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, rock-climbing, games and crafts.
The day was concluded with a lively “zabava;” Dunai and DJ Buncha played to a capacity crowd until 11 p.m.
“This annual celebration could not have happened without the support of many valued volunteers and our generous sponsors,” said Mr. Bahriy. Platinum sponsors for 2016 were Northland Power, Buduchnist Credit Union, Ukrainian Credit Union, Halenda Meats, Horodynsky Farms and the Zaraska Family. Gold sponsors were Meest Corp., Caravan, Mitec-EFX Show Systems, and the Ihnatowycz Family Foundation. Silver sponsors were Rodan Energy Solutions, New Canadian Drain and Plumbing, and the Shevchenko Foundation with the Temerty Family Foundation.
The 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 of this event – all managed by Committee Co-chairs Taras Antoniw and Lesia Bonk.