Kitsilano’s Greek Day festival returns to celebrate its 40th anniversary this Sunday in the neighbourhood where Vancouver’s Hellenic community first took root.
Before Kits was overrun with yoga pants and six-dollar lattes, even before the hippies arrived in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Kitsilano was the epicentre of Vancouver’s Greek immigrant community.
Centered around the St. George Greek Orthodox Church at Seventh and Vine (now home to the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House), the community flourished as the newly arrived flocked to the familiar embrace of the church.
“They wanted something familiar, something that reminded them of home,” said Greek Day organizer Mathew Bakatsis.
His father immigrated to Canada from Greece after longtime Omega Travel owner and Greek Day founder Nick Panos came here in the 1960s.
“They were from the same village, and when Nick came here, my dad followed,” said Bakatsis. “Everyone here knows Nick like an brother or an uncle.”
While Bakatsis was born here in Canada, he says it’s important for him to share the many contributions of Greek culture.
“That’s what Greek Day is all about,” he said.
Many of Kitsilano’s original Greek residents have since passed away or moved away, chased out by rising housing costs and drawn to larger Greek communities in East Vancouver and Surrey. But Bakatsis says Greek Day provides an opportunity for a reunion for the old neighbourhood.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Kitsilano’s Greek Day festival, and the 25th time it has been held. The event was an annual affair until 1988, when the raucous revelling became too much, forcing its cancellation.
“There was a time when things got out of hand in the past, it was a bit of a free for all,” said Bakatsis. “We’ve made it a lot more kid-friendly.”
The annual celebration of Hellenic culture was resurrected in 2005, and has been going strong for 10 straight years.
In addition to live music throughout the day, several local dance troupes representing a variety of different Greek styles will be performing at the event and giving dance lessons. The festival’s Kid Zone features arts and crafts, face painting, bouncy rides and an herb garden demonstration. The adults can sample Greek food, watch cooking demonstrations from local Greek chefs and haggle for trinkets at the Athenian Agora marketplace.
The outdoor family event is still one of the few in the city that allow adult festival-goers to walk around freely, beer-in-hand, without having to be caged into overcrowded beer gardens.
“We have ample security and it’s a completely contained area,” said Bakatsis. “It’s a family-friendly event that can still be appreciated by the adults.”
Greek Day takes place this Sunday, June 22, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. along Broadway between Blenheim and Macdonald.