Montreal Greek Community Celebrates Heritage
"To me, the dedication and the preservation of Hellenism in the Diaspora and the commitment to the cause of maintaining our Faith, Culture, and Language, is the lightning force that drives me on a daily basis." - Nicholas T. Pagonis, President of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal
The Montreal Greek community has been celebrating its heritage in style in the lead-up to the Greek Orthodox Easter which will take place on Sunday, April 8 in 2018. Festivities kicked off with the Greek Independence Day parade in the historic Park-Extension neighborhood in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's riding of Papineau on a bright Sunday afternoon on March 25th. The PM attended the parade along with tens of thousands of revelers, an annual Montreal tradition that has been going strong for more than 40 years. Greek Independence Day is a national holiday in Greece commemorating the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire between 1821-30. It corresponds with the Greek Orthodox Church's feast day of the Annunciation of Theotokos (in Greek: "God-Bearer") which for believers signifies the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The Montreal Greek Film Festival dovetailed its calendar with Greek holidays for the 6th year in a row.The MGFF prides itself on showcasing the best of Greek contemporary cinema covering the full range of drama, comedy, suspense, and documentary in both features and short films.These are films which Greeks living in Montreal would otherwise not have the opportunity to see, says John Caoussias, the festival's co-founder and director. "Netflix won't buy Greek films. We can't stream them.This is the only way to see top actors and quality films." The films all have English subtitles making them accessible to a wider population of film buffs.
The MGFF partners with the Hellenic Community of Montreal and is supported by the Consulate General of Greece in Montreal.This year the festival hosted a Canadian-themed night featuring the films of 4 Canadian filmmakers. These included RETURN TO PARK EX byTony Asimakopoulos, a bittersweet trip down memory lane for the Montreal director who views his immigrant boyhood neighborhood through the lens of its changing cultural landscape; and LAST DANCE ON THE MAIN by director Aristofanis Soulikias, an animated documentary about the demolition of a row of historic buildings on St. Laurent Boulevard. PATRIARCH'S ROOM, a riveting documentary by Montreal filmmaker Danae Elon is the true-life account of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ireneos who was accused of selling church property to Jewish settlers in Israel. DICHOTOMOUS a film about love for a broken nation directed by Peter James Kotsiras and Philip Balabanos rounded out the evening.
One of the most important short films STATUE OF THE GREEK IMMIGRANT directed by Athan Tom Sklavos documents the story of how the Montreal Greek community commissioned a statue to be given as a gift to the city of Montreal for its 375th Anniversary. Ioustine Frangouli-Argeris a lawyer and President of the Lyceum of Greek Women of Montreal was instrumental in making this happen.About 5 years ago former Mayor Denis Coderre met with all the consuls general of the EU countries who agreed to send gifts to the metropolis to commemorate its 375th birthday. However, because of the economic crisis in Greece, she says, Greece was not able to keep its end of the bargain and the Greek community here had to pick up the tab. With the help of the municipal councillor for Villeray/Saint Michel/Park Extension Mary Deros and three local Greek organizations - the Lyceum, the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal and the Hellenic Congress of Quebec - the Statue of the Greek Immigrant was born.
"The Greek community has done many good things," Frangouli-Argeris says. "They have churches, schools, but there is no trace of the Greek immigrant. This is a tribute dedicated to all the Greek and non-Greek immigrants who arrived in Montreal to have a better life," she says. "In the statue you see the story of all immigrants: the father, the mother, the child, the suitcase, and the arc overhead symbolizing the passage to the new world. Montreal is a multicultural, sanctuary city so we ought to have this kind of artwork." The bronze sculpture by internationally renowned artist Giorgos Houliaras was inaugurated and installed at the corner of Jean Talon and Park Avenue on June 30, 2017 after arriving by ship from Greece a month ahead of schedule."The whole project from A-Z was 8 months," she says with evident pride.
Caoussias says that he would eventually like to see one big Greek festival happen instead of disparate events.
This way the community could more readily fund and coordinate the venture in partnership with different levels of government. "Long term we would like to have a 'Greek Week' where we would combine art, culture, the parade, food, everything. It's been discussed - a nice 10 day event like Italian Week." As it is Caoussias brings over singers and other theatrical performers from Greece year-round to entertain the locals. "We have a lot of folklore and dance troupes," he says. "Films are another type of cultural event being developed," he says noting the social infrastructure is already there to make the big tent idea a reality.
left standing is Andy Crillis (vice president of greek community), right standing is John Caoussias (festival director), left sitting is Nicholas Pagonis (president of Greek community) and right sitting is Nicholas Sigalas ( Consulate General of Greece)
Statue of the Greek Immigrant by Giorgos Houliaras