The cancellation of the Calgary Greek Festival is sad news for two young dancers and their mother. The annual cultural event has been cancelled, according to Hellenic Community of Calgary president, Nick Vasilakos, because of a low volunteer turnout.
The festival, which was usually held near the Hellenic Community of Calgary’s building in the southwest, near the Shaganappi Golf Course, has celebrated Greek food, entertainment, and culture, in a three-day get together with members of the community since its conception in 1998.
Volunteers of the festival since its beginning, Helen Zarokostas-Albanito and her family, has always taken part in the annual festivities.
“Sad and disappointed,” Zarokostas-Albanito simply stated when asked of her reaction towards the sudden cancellation of the Calgary Greek Festival.
The mother of two has two girls who take Greek folk dancing all year. The girls perform on several events throughout the year and the Calgary Greek Festival was usually a part of their agenda.
“My kids are disappointed because they can’t bring their friends. That was a proud place for them to showcase their culture and share it with their friends.”
Fifteen-year-old, Marina, and 12-year-old, Sofia, “would perform with the Greek dance group called Niata,” said Zarokostas-Albanito, “… the name of the entire dance group from the Greek Community of Calgary.”
“I’ve been dancing with the same people since I was about six years old, maybe even younger,” said Marina, “and you just kind of develop this bond and like family that you just hangout with and its honestly really nice cause it gives you a sense of belonging and community.”
Vasilakos wrote to the Hellenic Community of Calgary website that “after numerous calls for committee volunteers via email, the community newsletter, and church announcements, we did not receive adequate response to effectively run the Calgary Greek Festival.”
“The Community Council is grateful for the few people who did come forward to serve on the committee, however, key roles were still vacant.”
It is a costly festival to host and “without an experienced Chairperson” to manage the event, according to Vasilakos, it would be financially risky to orchestrate.
“I find it very unfortunate that the Greek Festival is being cancelled this year. I hope that the festival is able to continue in the future but am disappointed it can’t go forward this year,” said Councillor Evan Woolley, whose ward the festival falls under.
Calgary-Currie MLA, Brian Malkinson, has tagged both Woolley and Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, in a Sept 2016 post on twitter. Malkinson posted a photo of himself and Nenshi dancing along with other attendees at last year’s festival.
In a statement release by Malkinson to the Calgary Journal, he stated that:
“Like many in the community, I was saddened to hear that Calgary’s annual Greek Fest will not go ahead this year due to a lack of volunteers. This unfortunate news is an important reminder of the community-changing work done by volunteers, and that we all have a role to play.
“There is a strong Greek community in Calgary Currie and their commitment to their neighbours is an inspiration to all, and I do not believe that commitment will be diminished by this setback … ”
“It sucks, honestly,” said Marina, “because I met a lot of friends [at the festival] and it’s really fun to just dance up there in big groups and perform and share my culture.”
With the Greek Festival being cancelled this year, Marina, Sofia, and their group won’t be able to perform at the summer festival as they usually would.
The event has raised money for Canadian foundations like the Red Cross and Kids Cancer Care in the previous years.
Back in 2013, the festival went over and beyond its usual annual donations by raising more than $50,000 for the Red Cross Flood Relief Fund and donating an additional $30,000 to the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta. In that same year, the festival gave free admission to almost 12,000 guests, having served 8,000 free meals in addition to numerous meals given to Calgary’s first responders and citizens affected by the flood.
“It was always a great way that we wanted to not only showcase our culture but enable us to give back to the community,” Zarokostas-Albanito said.
As for Marina, she said, “I hope they get it started though next year.”
“I hope that they try and revise it and get it back to where it used to be.”
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