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Capital Ukrainian Festival Flag Waves High

Capital Ukrainian Festival Flag Waves High

All photos by Andre Gagne.

There was much cause for rejoicing Monday morning for Ottawa’s Ukrainian community. On the lawn of city hall, in the presence of government representatives and as their national anthem was sung, the flag for the Capital Ukrainian Festival was raised for all to see.

The festival begins on Thursday but the flag has been in the works for some time. The logo, combining the festival's initials, the colours of the Ukrainian flag and the Peace Tower symbolically linking both nations, was designed by a team of volunteers last year. The blue and yellow represent the sky and rolling fields of wheat. Jane Kolbe, chair of the festival, tells Ottawa Life how, historically, Ukraine was the breadbasket of Europe and this needed to be represented in the design while still maintaining a nod to Ottawa as the festival’s home.

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Festival Chair, Jane Kolbe

“We wanted clear, modern lines, and a logo that encompasses tradition with modern reality.  The C.U.F. was made into a square box to mean Capital Ukrainian Festival.  The Peace Tower grounds the festival in Ottawa, and the modern embroidery band along the bottom has cultural significanceEmbroidery is a symbol of our Ukrainian cultural heritage,” Kolbe says, adding how she was awestruck when she first saw the completed flag.

The flag raising was doubly significant for Kolbe and her team as this year marks a historic milestone for the Ukrainian people of Canada. It is the 125th anniversary of when they began to settle here.

“Ukrainians in Ottawa will see that their festival is becoming an accepted and integral part of the Ottawa events and festival community,” Kolbe said of the flag.

The ceremony began with a choir singing traditional songs before keynote speakers took the podium to address the festival’s importance to the city in how it shares a culture with people who may not get a chance to experience it otherwise. It also expands waistlines, organizers joked about the festival's tasty and traditional foods. Mayor Jim Watson added a more political element to the celebration by condemning the current treatment of Ukraine by Russia in his speech.

ukr Flag (19 of 31)“I think it’s absolutely appalling the behaviour of the Russian Government towards the Ukrainian people and annexing illegally…this bullying act of a big country taking on a small country,” Watson said to resounding applause. “My hope is enough international pressure will come to the Russian people and tell them that this kind of boorish behaviour is unacceptable.”

“Ottawa is a vibrant, unified and strong city, due to the many cultures that enrich our community,” continued Watson. “The Capital Ukrainian Festival is a great occasion to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions of Canadians of Ukrainian heritage to our city and country.”

ukr Flag (17 of 31)The event officially kicked off the festival week. 8,000 people visited the first annual Capital Ukrainian Festival last year with more expected to visit the grounds at 952 Green Valley Crescent by the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine this time around.

Programming is unique, with each night of the festival representing a theme (visitors should expect something different on the main stage every 20 minutes). There is a lot new this year including a Fashion Night (July 22), a One World program (July 24) that invites four other ethnic groups to perform, an evening of cultural cinema (July 21) as well as jazz and opera performances. You can get grooving with a DJ Dance party (July 22) where old is sure to meet new.

Ukrain (2 of 88)For the first time, the festival is partnering with Chamberfest to present a separate ticketed gala (July 22) with the Gryphon Trio and the Ewashko Singers at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Outside of that, patrons can enjoy performances by OT Vinta, Zabava with Zika, Vasyl Popadiuk and the Papa Duke Band and much, much more free of charge.

Festival goers can experience more traditional aspects of Ukrainian culture with tours of the St. John the Baptist Shrine, Sacred Choral singing, an informative exhibit commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Settlement in Canada and an exhibit about the Great Famine and Stalin years. Various crafts and other stations will take place throughout the festival such as the popular Pysanky (creative egg design) and Motanka doll workshops.  The foodies will enjoy the culinary art demonstrations and learn how to make varenyky (perogies), borscht and ritual bread. Traditional music and dance demonstrations are sure to be a delight.

The festival runs between July 21-24. The full schedule can be viewed online.

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Ottawa Life had a chance to chat with Koble about what goes into preparing the festival, some of this year’s additions and what the festival means to the community.

Ottawa Life: Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to start the first festival?

Jane Kolbe: Several things.  It's hard to identify one thing.  First, I think there's a genuine need and certainly an interest to have a Ukrainian Festival in Ottawa because it is the capital city of Canada.  There are 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent living in Canada, and this year, we are celebrating 125 years of settlement in Canada.  This is a pretty big deal, given that Canada is only 150 years old next year.  Then, there is a need in Ottawa.  Ottawa is festival city, and it's attraction of being one of the top places to live in the world is its artistic and cultural diversity.

Some say trying to put something together of this magnitude can be a little crazy. Do you agree?

I think you have to be a little crazy to jump in full force to take on a project like this.  It's a full time job, and takes a full 12-18 months to plan a weekend event like ours.  And, I’m a little bit crazy.  Then again, I am supported by a really committed and skilled community.  We have deeply dedicated volunteers.  But the biggest thing is that I am very proud of my Ukrainian heritage and in awe of the pioneer struggles that my grandmother and grandfather endured to come to this country.  With them, they brought to Canada the customs and traditions that are still alive today.  These customs and traditions are passed from generation to generation, and if we don’t have a platform to do this in Ottawa, our children won't benefit from experiencing our rich cultural heritage.

ukr Flag (7 of 31)What goes into putting together the festival each year? This year in particular seems to have much more going on.

It takes a team of about 20 task team leads, eight core volunteers and over 100 volunteers the weekend of the Festival.  Yes, we have so much more to offer this year in addition to the performances of music, song and dance to entertain people.  The physical site is designed to envelop you into Ukrainian culture and hospitality at every corner of the festival grounds.

How do you go about ensuring more of the culture of Ukraine is represented?

 We listen really hard to what people who go to festivals want to experience.  The food is considered a priority so we offer delicious foods and beverages to satisfy all tastes. The other thing we hear from both Ukrainians and from non-Ukrainians is that they really like the cultural experience.  So we offer a wide variety of performances of Ukrainian songs, dance and music. This year we are featuring Ukrainian Canadian film makers and their films at the Thursday Film Festival.  One film is on Terry Sawchuk, considered to be one of Canada's greatest goalies, another is an award winning film from Ukraine called The Guide which deals with the repressions in Ukraine under Stalin in the 1930s. It is a riveting film.  We also offer a variety of workshops and cooking lessons so the public is exposed to the many facets of Ukrainian culture.

How are the acts, vendors and workshops selected?

They are selected based on our Festival themes of celebration, identity and community.

ukr Flag (13 of 31)What has been the feedback so far for the festival?

Excellent and very positive.  In 2014, the Capital Ukrainian Festival was a finalist for New Company of the Year with Ottawa Tourism.  People from all over Canada, the US, and Ukraine will be arriving in Ottawa just to celebrate the 4 day event.  We were told Ottawa’s Ukrainian Festival is the fastest growing Ukrainian festival in North America, and the best one to go to for those who want to really be Ukrainian for a day or weekend!  We have it all, wonderful performers, food, the marketplace, workshops, kids’ activities, films, fashion, comedy (and dance parties.

What has been a past festival highlight for you and why?

 When I see smiling, happy people celebrating with each other, it is heart-warming.  That is the Ukrainian way.  People talking, eating, dancing and celebrating life!  When people interact and make new friends, it's all the reward I need.  When I hear people talking about their culture and sharing intergenerational stories, it's beautiful.  A highlight for me is when people come with their children and dance together in front of the stage.  When friends who haven’t seen each other in years bump into each other at the festival is a personal highlight for me. But, I guess, the biggest highlight of all was finding out how popular the festival would be in Ottawa.  It has also brought renewed energy and joy to the Ukrainian community – and there are 25,000 Ukrainians living in Ottawa, so that is a lot of joy!

ukr Flag (15 of 31)What are you most looking forward to this year at the festival?

 I can’t wait to hear what people think about each day having a different theme and experience. Thursday Film Night, Friday Fashion Show and DJ dance party, Saturday Family Day and Sunday's operatic hour, jazz performance and the one world show.

Anything else you’d like to share about the fest? 

 Yes, the partnerships that we are building are really important to us.  Our Festival is part of a larger festival community in Ottawa, Canada and North America; it's an incredible family to belong to.  We look forward to participating in the July 16, 2016 Music and Beyond Show.  The Barvinok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble is performing there.  They return to Ottawa the following weekend and take the stage at the Capital Ukrainian Festival, so these cross linkages are incredible.  Partnering with the Chamberfest has been an enriching experience.  We are also having lots of fun partnering with Miss Ukrainian Canada.

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Ottawa Life’s Festival City Series will provide a unique look at some of your favourite summer events.We’ll go beyond the music with artist interviews, volunteer profiles, concert reviews and spotlights on the tastes, sights and sounds of the festival season. Your city! Your festivals! Your summer! Like a good sunscreen, Ottawa Life has you covered.

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