The Slovak community in Vancouver is small and close-knit. “When we quizzed people about the estimated size of this community in the lower Mainland, we got numbers ranging from 2,000–20,000,” chuckles Jozef Starosta, a member of the local Slovak community of Coquitlam and New Westminster and founder of Slovo z Britskej Kolumbie magazine. “But the actual number is only around 6,000–7,000.”
There are several Slovak societies and organizations here in Vancouver.
“One of the oldest ones is the Slovak Parish which was founded around the 1960s,” says Starosta.
It still boasts of well-attended Sunday masses.
The Czech and Slovak Association of Canada is another association which was founded back in 1960 and is still active. Family-oriented events such as hikes and picnics are organized during the summer. The festivities reach an apex during the festive season, especially around Christmas when there are bazaars and dance balls.
Folklore, singing, dancing characterizes another community called ‘Slavic’, which also has a strong member base.
Challenges of the next generation
Ensuring the proliferation of Slovak language looms large as a challenge. Some involved parents do volunteer to teach Slovak language in select schools, as an after-school activity. However, being born in the fast-paced metropolis of Vancouver: a melting pot of so many different nations, youth are fast losing their connections to their origins.
“The Slovak community, too, consists of a somewhat scattered people from various generations of immigrants,” Starosta says.
The City of Nations Society was founded five years ago to increase awareness of and promote the art and culture of diverse local and international groups, and to aid collaborations between artists.
“I came here in 1995,” says Marika Kovalcikova, executive and artistic director of the City of Nations Society. “Recompensing artists is as important as promoting them,. While people do enjoy art, they often expect it to be free,” she adds on a somewhat sombre note.
Culture Days performances
In its first collaboration with Culture Days this year, the City of Nations Society will be presenting a poetic exhibition of Slovak art and culture. Entitled Arts and Culture from the Heart of Europe, this consists of two distinct performances by local musical group Hurhaj! (Hoor-hai!) and international village folklore group Vinica.
Vinica aims to portray the joyful and community-based life that is the foundation of life in Myslava, in eastern Slovakia. Village folk communed in the evenings to craft and sew. This marks the origin of the beautiful costumes and artifacts.
The program is titled Pictures of life in Myslava and it represents different dimensions of life in Myslava. The group sing, dance, and play a variety of musical instruments such as violin, accordion, bass, cymbals as they narrate a tale of young love and the transition into wedded life.
The heartwarming customs and traditions that characterize this sacred three-day event in a couple’s life, as well as all the unique memorabilia of married life for a woman such as the “čepec” (which will decorate her head for the rest of her life) are woven into the story. The songs are 300-years-old and the costumes are as authentic: more than a 100-years-old!
A proud community
“It is our pride that we are from a country many times smaller in area, but with a population density that is 100 times more than Canada,” smiles Starosta. “We would be proud if we could make an event which conveys, ‘We are Slovaks!’”
“I am so glad that the City of Nations Society has this opportunity to present a group from my homeland as a first-time project for Culture Days,” says Kovalcikova, smiling.
This year is a special one as it marks 100 years of the Czechoslovakian independence. The former Czechoslovakia has since become two countries: Slovakia and Czech Republic. Those two countries split in January 1, 1993. Both Starosta and Kovalcikova were born in Czechoslovakia (on the Slovak side), and grew up with the Slovak language and cultural influences.
“After living 30 years in Canada I feel Canadian, but the blood in my veins is still Slovakian. At the end of the day, I’m a happy man because I have two homes!” says Starosta.
For more information, please visit www.culturedays.ca