Dancers from the old country will be kicking up a frenzy while the aroma of freshly roasted lamb lures 30,000 people to the 13th annual Greek Fest beginning today outside Saanich Commonwealth Place.
While stalwart offerings like Greek cuisine and traditional dance performances remain, organizers are expanding a popular agora, or Greek market, and are opening the stage to dancers from other cultures to increase the visual spectacle.
“We have performers coming all the way from Athens, and they’re quite a spectacular group of people,” said Michael Ikonomou. “They have six different programs they’ll perform, one at lunchtime and one in the evening each day.”
Ikonomou said visiting Greek performers are struck each year by the hospitality and openness of Greater Victoria’s Greek community, many of whom migrated to the area in the 1950s and ’60s.
“There’s been a lot of development and influence of tourism in Greece over those years, but the people here haven’t been exposed to that development. We’re more pure about the Greek culture,” he said.
Expect a popular heritage exhibit that began several years ago to continue to expand as well.
“We have artifacts from all the people who have been here from the early days,” Ikonomou said. “We also hired a student who collected stories from the many people who immigrated here years ago, and it’s a work in progress. Our aim is to populate it and put it on the web with video.”
Cash raised from food and beverage sales feeds back into next year’s Greek Fest as well as several charitable causes including Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock and the Hot Lunch Program.
“We also support a number of needy families in Victoria. This year, we had a child that needed an insulin pump,” Ikonomou said.
“There are families who need help, and in the last couple of years, we had a lot of new immigrants from Greece after the financial crisis. There’s a big chunk of money that goes to those causes.”
The Greek community hall also runs year-round language training and other cultural programs, thanks to funding from Greek Fest.
As always, Greek Fest will celebrate the ideals of family, friendship and philoxenia, or generosity towards strangers, even as record attendance numbers swell the capacity to its limit.
“The number of people is almost overwhelming,” Ikonomou said. “But we want to maintain our friendliness to strangers. That’s always our top priority.”
Greek Fest runs Aug. 22 to 24 and Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Saanich Commonwealth Place. See greekfest.ca for more information.