The strong voice of a great community
November, 2012

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                A special general assembly was called for the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver (Saints Nicholas & Dimitrios Church) in regards to the charitable status of this parish community. That meeting took place on Tuesday evening, October 24th, in the church basement hall.  To reach a quorum at least 80 members needed to be present and that number was well exceeded. People came to make sure their memberships were up to date so that they could vote. Many new members were also signed up.

            The president, George Sachinides explained that the charitable status of the society had been suspended.  Apparently Revenue Canada had not received the required filing documents for 2010. Its phone calls and messages in regards to the matter had been not been answered for reasons unknown so the government had cancelled the charitable status. Mr. Sachinides, upon discovering this earlier this year, had tried to deal with Revenue Canada to sort out the problem for many months, without success, so a lawyer who specializes in society and charity law had to be hired.

            The lawyer Anders Ourom explained that it is not just a simple matter of filing the missing documents to reinstate the charitable status. The rules for applying for a charitable tax number for an organization has undergone many changes since the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver was first registered in Victoria in 1978. Its constitution now does not meet those newer rules. After much consultation between the federal government, the society register in British Columbia and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis, Toronto the changes to the constitution were agreed upon as the first step to regaining charitable status for the community. It now was up to the membership to also approve those changes. 

            It was also pointed out that some of the various activities of the community did not qualify for charitable status. The annual Greek festival, one of the major fundraisers for the community in July is a case in point. So a separate non-charitable organization would have to be formed as an arm of the community. But this will be a step that needs to be taken after the changes to the constitution are filed with the Society Registrar and with Revenue Canada.

If the changes to the constitution were not approved by the membership it would be the death toll of the community. Without charitable status the community could not issue tax receipts for income tax purposes.  Revenue Canada had given the community a time limit to get the constitution updated and make any other changes as necessary. Otherwise the community could be liable for taxes and fines and forfeit all its property and assets for non-compliance.

The members were in agreement that they did not want to lose their parish community so readily agreed to the proposed changes.

If this community has to change its organization and accounting practices in order to meet the new rules for charity status it is possible that the other communities will soon have to also. 



                The annual Greek festivals of British Columbia have all come and gone for this year.  These include those of the four main Greek communities, two in Vancouver, one in Surrey and one in Victoria as well as the festival in Vancouver by the Hellenic Canadian congress of BC.

The first one out of the gate was the festival of the Greek Orthodox Community of Surrey & Fraser Valley (Sts. Constantine & Helen Church) which took place on the community grounds at 96th Avenue and 132nd Street in Surrey from June 8th to the 17th.  This was only the second year for the festival at this location but the people of Surrey are starting to get used to this location as attendance was up from last year. That community has the best set-up for the comfort of those attending as the entire outdoor area is covered in tents. The ceiling of these tents is different than those at the other festivals. They filter out strong sunshine but allow in a lot of light. Also the stage is placed so it is visible from all areas. The major stumbling block for this festival is the lack of parking spots as both the roads are major thoroughfares. But people who are willing to drive around a bit and don’t mind some walking could find parking in the surrounding neighbourhood. That community is trying to work with Surrey City to come up with some long term solutions to the parking situation.

Next in line was the Greek Fest on Broadway in Vancouver on June 24th. This was organized by the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC, an umbrella organization representing many of the Greek organizations across British Columbia.  West Broadway Avenue was closed to traffic from Macdonald to Blenheim Street from early morning to late at night for this family orientated festival. Taking part were not only the various Greek organizations but also many of the local merchants and other sponsors. This event was the last day of the Greek Heritage Festival in Vancouver which began on May 15th and featured poetry readings, lectures, films, and other events related to Greek culture.

The Greek fest on Broadway is noted for being a “green” festival, as compositing is a big feature of this event. All the food containers, wrappings and food waste were compostable and deposited in special organic containers, greatly reducing the amount of garbage ending up in the landfill.



                “Live a Day the Greek Way” was the theme for the festival of the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver on Boundary Road in Vancouver. The festival ran from June 28th to July 8th and was open every day from noon until 11:00 pm.  It featured Greek cuisine, a live band, Greek dance groups as well as other local and ethnic dance groups.

                The festival opened each day with music by Alpha Video and closed most nights with live bouzouki with Yanni Sahamis and his band. Natalia Pardalis and Friends also provided some of the music. The entertainment, other than the taped music did not usually begin until after 5:00 pm.  However on Canada Day the entertainment started earlier, at 2:30 pm.  Throughout the festival the Greek dance performances featured the Alexander the Great Dancers, the Cretan Dance Group, the Dimitrios Dance Group, the Diaspora Hellenic Dance Group of Surrey and Socrates Greek School. Also featured were Latin, Gypsy and Balkan music. The ethnic dance groups presented Asian, Croatian, Hawaiian, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian and Spanish dances. There were also tap dancing and belly dancing. The official opening ceremonies took place on Saturday, June 30th. On July 1st   there was a cake cutting ceremony in honour of Canada Day.



                The Greek festival in Greater Victoria took place this year from Aug. 28th to September 3rd.   The community and church are located on Elk Lake Drive in Saanich, about half way between the ferry terminal in Sidney and downtown Victoria. For those not wanting to pay the fees for taking a vehicle from the mainland there is the option of taking the local bus from the ferry terminal to the church as the bus stop is right by the church.

                The festival opened each day at 11:00am. Entertainment started at noon and continued throughout the day except for about a two hour mid-afternoon break on the first four days.  Live music was provided by the Gypsy Rovers and the Bouzouki TRIO.  Greek dance performances were provided by the Orpheas Greek dancers and the Kariatis Greek dancers, both groups from Victoria. The Diaspora Hellenic Greek Dance group came from Surrey, BC and performed from Aug. 31st to Sep. 2nd.  Two groups came from Alberta, the Dionysos Greek Dancers of Calgary and the Dionysos Greek Dancers of Edmonton.  Both of these groups performed from Aug. 31st to Sep. 3rd. There were also two groups that came directly from Greece. The Holy City of Messologi Greek Dance group had come to this festival for a few years now and was joined this year by the ELKELAM Dancers from Athens.  Both of these groups performed on every day of the festival.  Hungarian, Irish, Spanish, Middle-Eastern and belly-dancing were also featured throughout the festival.

                At last year’s festival the community president had shown Patrides the expansion plans for the community hall. Those plans are now in progress. The foundation to the expansion was nearly completed.  Also the iconography inside the church had been added to. By next year’s festival most of the new construction could be completed.



                The last Greek community festival of the year is that of the Hellenic Community of Vancouver (St. George Cathedral). It differs from all the others as it is an indoor festival rather than an outdoor one. It is also the shortest one as it is only over three days. The 35th annual festival took place this year from October 19th to 21st. The emphasis on this event is more the food and not so much the entertainment.

                The Philoptochos ladies spend many days before the event preparing the Greek cookies and pastries for the bake sale. The loukemathes, another popular Greek dessert were prepared fresh each day and were featured, along with Greek coffee at the “cafenio” in the upper hall.  Gyros were available in the tent just outside the entrance to the main hall. The “taverna” featured souvlakia while the “dining room”, which took up about half of the main hall, featured a choice of dinners. The upper mezzanine featured an art display, gift shop, Greek wine and other displays.

The entertainment consisted mainly of dance performances by various Greek groups as well as some other ethnic dance groups. The Greek groups included the Cretan dancers, the Alexander the Great dancers, dance groups from the Greek schools, the Zefyros Greek Dance group (formerly the Dimitrios Dance Group) which is now based out of the Hellenic Community Center and the Diaspora Greek dance group which is based in the Surrey community. There was also a “Bouzouki night” with a live band on the Saturday evening.

The crowds were not as big as they were in the early years. Attendance has fallen off, perhaps because people are tightening their purse strings or maybe there is not enough advertising of the event. Or it could be that people have already had their fill of Greek festivals over the summer. Thirty-five years ago the Hellenic Community of Vancouver was the only community. It had its fall food festival as well as organized the outdoor summer Greek Day on Broadway. Then the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver came into existence and also started its own summer fest. In the early 1990’s the Greek Orthodox Community of Surrey and Fraser Valley was formed and it also developed its own festival.  So now the Vancouver community is not the hub of Greek culture that it used to be.



            On the 16th of September the Society of Greeks of Constantinopolos and Asia Minor of British Columbia together with the Hellenic Community of Vancouver held a special commemoration for the 90th anniversary of the destruction of the city of Smyrna and the genocide of Greek Christians in Asia Minor by the Turks. A memorial service was held at St. George Cathedral. This was followed in the community center hall with a special presentation. One of the speakers was Maria Kalogeroupoulou, visiting adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. She originates from Athens. The main talk was given by Dr. Andre Gerolymatos, the director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. He spoke on the 1922 expulsion and slaughter of Greek Christian in Asia Minor, the burning of the city of Smyrna and the efforts to rescue survivors. He also spoke on how the Greco-Turkish war and the influx of refugees to Greece affected the politics in Greece.




            This is the Greek equivalent to Remembrance Day, honouring those who went to war defending their homeland. It marks the day that Greece entered WWII. It was on that day in 1940 that the Greeks stood up to the AXIS powers with a resounding “NO”.

            The OXI Day-October 28, 1940 and Greek Independence Day-March 25th, 1821 are two important celebrations for all Greeks, regardless of where they now reside. Until a few years ago the OXI Day ceremonies were held only at Sts. Nicholas & Dimitrios Church while the March 25th ceremonies were held at St. George Cathedral. Now, while these sites still remain the “official” sites, at the direction of Metropolitan Sotirios all the other churches are also to hold special services for these occasions. Therefore St. George Cathedral in Vancouver and Sts. Helen & Constantine Church in Surrey also held commemorative services.

At Sts. Nicholas and Dimitrios Church and the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver therefore the official ceremonies again took place. Fr. Evangelos Aravantinos was assisted by Fr. Dorotheos Tryfonopoulos, the first parish priest of that church. The representatives of the Consul of Greece and various Greek communities and organizations were invited to the church service as well as the celebration in the hall afterwards. The Greek School and Sunday school children this year also had a presentation in the church in honour of OXI Day.

            The Consul General had been recalled to Greece some months ago and his replacement has not yet arrived so the Director Agathe Spyrou along with the Maritime Attaché Antonios Mazis represented the Consulate in Vancouver.   At the lunch Ms. Spyrou read the letter on behalf of the Republic of Greece and gave her own message on the importance of this national celebration. Tsoula Berggren, the Consul of Cyprus and Mr. Peter P. Kletas, president of the Hellenic Community of Vancouver were also among the dignitaries. The AHEPA Golden West District #26(BC) were also represented.  Speaking on behalf of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) was the president of AHEPA Canada, George Vassilas who was here from Montreal.

While the church was almost full many people left right after the service instead of taking in the ceremonies and the lunch in the hall. There were many empty seats at the tables. Is it that people no longer respect this special event in Greek history or is it because people just did not want to pay the $15 for the lunch? There were over thirty lunches left over so the president requested that people buy them at a reduced rate and take them home. Would it not have been better to provide a simpler lunch, such as sandwiches and coffee for free? It would probably not have cost the community any more than the full meal where much of it was wasted. Perhaps then also the hall would have been packed for the talks given by the special guests. After all if the families with children do not get involved while the children are young how are these children going to see these special occasions when they become adults?  Is it not better to have the church and hall full of people to commemorate these events instead of trying to use the occasions to make money?

There was also a lack of respect shown for the occasion by some of those who did attend the lunch. Instead of listening to the speakers they turned their backs and carried on their own conversations with their table mates. Is this how they would treat invited guests in their own home?

It looks like a change of attitude by both the organizers and the people in general would help to ensure that these events are carried on and respected for generations to come.



            Halloween over the years has become very frightening for young children. Many parents are reluctant to have their children go out to trick or treat as it would expose their young children to some of the macabre decorations on many of the houses. So Fr. Evangelos of Sts. Nicholas & Dimitrios Church in Vancouver wanted to give parents a better option. Therefore the Greek Orthodox Community of East Vancouver was the site of a Harvest Festival on the evening of October 31st, organized by Chrys Gonidakis and Helen Ismirnioglou. Children enjoyed an evening of pumpkin carving, games and special treats. 



                The Greek Orthodox Community of Surrey and Fraser Valley (Sts. Constantine & Helen) is the fastest growing Greek community in BC.  It has come a long way since its early beginnings over twenty-two years ago. It started out in the old Fleetwood Hall which doubled as both a hall and a church, definitely not an ideal situation. Not only does it now have a proper house of worship, a hall and a multipurpose building but its membership is growing. It now offers Greek School and Sunday school. The Diaspora Dance group is also based out of the community, using both the main hall and the multipurpose building for instruction as that group is the largest dance troupe in British Columbia. The group has about seventy registered participants, ranging from ages three to adult.  The main instructors are Eleni Diamantopoulos and Fr. Costa Tsiolas.

            Fr. Costa is well liked by the younger generation and has drawn them in not only to the dance group but also to the church. He had a slow start when he first became the parish priest but over the years has become more confident in his role as religious leader and mentor. There are many young families now attended the church on a regular basis, many coming long distances.

            The move to having a proper church also has brought out the philanthropic character of many people, those who are members of the community as well as those who are not. Some people attend the church but do not become members because they do not want to be involved in the “politics” but gladly support the church. Many people have worked hard to turn the church building into a proper Orthodox church, either through donations of money or time and labour.  Much has been accomplished in the past few years.  The church has new pews and new carpet. The beautiful iconostat, chanters stand and candle stands are also new and have been imported from Greece. Icons have also been ordered from Greece and soon they will also be installed on the walls. New chandeliers are also planned. The basement hall has undergone renovations. The upper level of the old house on the property has been turned into a multipurpose room. It is used for the Greek School and for Greek Dance instruction. The basement of the house is used for storage. The grounds have been paved and fenced. A bell tower is also being planned.  Also improvements to the entrance are planned as the present stairs are not easily accessible for anybody with mobility problems.

            For many years there were struggles within the community due to conflicting visions for the community – those who were interested in the church and those who were interested in it as a “club”. It has taken some people many years to accept the fact that it is a parish community. Now that conflict should be put to rest and everyone can concentrate on working to a common goal. With the cooperation of the leaders and the people it will not be many more years before further expansion for this church community will become necessary.