Planning a Vancouver Cultural Festival: Greek Day on Broadway Gets Set to Return

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

After a two-year hiatus of their annual street festival, Greek Day on Broadway will take place again on June 26, 2022, with all the food and drink, entertainment, and activities that attendees have come to know and love.

This return is particularly momentous given the disappointment over having to cancel the festival during the pandemic. In March 2020, the annual Greek Day on Broadway was all ready to take place in June. Organizing had begun in September 2019, and everything was in motion for the big event. “Our last meeting that we had as a Board was right at the beginning of March. And everybody thought it was going to be a two-week shutdown and back open to the world but we had to put a pause on everything. We had to cancel our event planners and cancel all of our vendors,” says Gianna Gillales, co-chair of Greek Day on Broadway.

In 2021, with the continued pandemic uncertainty, Greek Day on Broadway pivoted to a new format: Greek Day in the Driveway, which was a drive-through event. People ordered their favourite Greek dishes online or when they arrived, and then received delicious meals cooked and served by community members. “It was a ton of work but we really wanted to stay relevant in the community, so we decided to do that modified event,” Gillales says.

Photo: Greek Day in the Driveway

Fortunately, 2022 is a go for Greek Day on Broadway, which was first held in 1976, and was happily revived in 2005 after a 17-year absence. The street festival, presented by the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC, is the culmination of Greek Heritage Month in June.

Not only does Greek Day on Broadway celebrate and share Greek culture with everyone in the city, but it also pays tribute to the history of West Broadway, which became a centre for Greek culture and businesses post-World War II. The street festival takes place in Kitsilano, five blocks along West Broadway from Blenheim to Macdonald Street. The event encompasses food, market vendors, music and dance entertainment, and tons of other fun activities for the whole family.

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

“It’s really exciting. I think it’s something everybody is looking forward to. We were so keen about getting everything together, so we could have the street festival. I’m really excited to bring the community back together,” Gillales.

Planning a giant street festival is no small feat. The organizing kicks off in September when the date gets finalized with the City of Vancouver. From there, the organizers (which consists of an event planning team and the three co-chairs, supported by the board) mobilizes coordinating with the City, starting to register vendors, organizing sponsorship packages, and getting in contact with media. “It’s more of the administrative tasks that get going because we need that foundation. Because Greek Day is such a huge event—it has approximately 100,000 people who come during the day—there are a lot of moving parts. It’s important for us to start planning early,” says Gillales.

Even though Greek Day on Broadway has happened annually many times before, there are always unforeseen obstacles. Plus, the two-year break has made the process challenging since a lot of things have changed, especially contacts they had previously cultivated with various businesses and organizations. “Now it’s rebuilding those connections. Normally, you reach out to the same person every year but now everyone is brand new,” Gillales says. As well, given the difficult times most businesses have been facing, signing up participants has required more persuasion than usual. “Sponsorship is very difficult to get because, of course, budgets are so scaled back,” Gillales says.

Nonetheless, due to the boundless enthusiasm of the team, this year’s Greek Day on Broadway promises to be as exciting and lively as always. Many different Greek associations and organizations, which exist under the umbrella of the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC, will be participating, such as the Cretan Association of BC. Gillales underlines how these organizations make Greek Day the success that it is. “They come every year. They sell food. They sell beer. Some of the organizations have dance groups as well, so they participate. They’re a huge piece of what we do,” Gillales says. Many of these organizations rely on Greek Day as a fundraiser to facilitate their many other cultural activities, so the return of the street festival is very important to them. “We met with them a couple weeks ago, and they were all so keen, so ready, so excited,” she adds.

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

Attendees can expect a wide range of food for feasting, including food truck fare and, of course, traditional Greek items, such as souvlaki, spanakopita, and of course, loukoumades, the Greek honey doughnuts that everyone adores. “There will be no shortage of food. Your favourite Greek food will be there,” Gillales says.

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

The organizers work with the West Broadway Business Improvement Association to make sure establishments in the area know about the event and have a chance to get involved. This year, they’re enthused to have a new Greek restaurant on board, Nostos Taverna, which recently opened on West Broadway at Trutch Street. “We try to keep Greek Day as Greek as possible so it’s nice to have another Greek restaurant participating,” Gillales says. West Broadway has also seen the closure of many long-running Greek businesses, so she says it’s heart-warming to see a new Greek restaurant launch on the street

With the big day just over two months away, organizing kicks up a notch as they line up entertainment and make crucial logistical decisions. Besides cooking demonstrations, there will be traditional Greek dancing and music. The day will conclude with a performance by Yanni Sahamis, a Greek bouzouki player. “He is a staple in the Greek community. He performs at almost all the dinner dances, any events, meetings. He’s honestly a fundamental piece of Greek music history in the Lower Mainland,” Gillales says. When organizers called him to tell him Greek Day was returning, Sahamis didn’t hesitate to say yes. “Ok! I’m ready,” he replied.

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

Currently, organizers are re-evaluating the street layout, finalizing who is going to be where, and what would work best for the overall flow of the festival. Even though Gillales is a volunteer, organizing Greek Day on Broadway is like another full-time job for her—but she is more than happy to invest so much time and effort because of her passion for the Greek community. She says, “It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun too. And it’s nice to see everything open up now, and seeing people who are eager to participate. Our dance groups are going to start practising soon so they’re able to perform at Greek Day.”

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

The countdown has begun for the very popular Greek Day on Broadway. Gillales urges everyone to come and celebrate the festival’s return. “It’s a fun family-friendly event. We want everyone to have a good time and to celebrate Hellenic heritage and culture with us and see how we live the Greek way,” she says.

Photo: Greek Day on Broadway

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