Ukrainian festival turns 20 years old

Photo by Gord Yakimow

Photo by Gord Yakimow

Gladys Andreas, founder and first president of the B.C. Ukrainian Cultural Festival (BCUCF) is delighted to be celebrating the festival’s 20th anniversary this coming April 18 and 19, but it wasn’t an overnight process.

Ukrainian immigration began when the Canadian government, through the British Parliament, invited Europeans to move to Canada. On April 6th, 1895 with the steamship Cristina, the first mass Ukrainian immigration began with 106 Ukrainians coming to Canada, including Andreas’ grandparents and their four children.

“With the way things are going in the world, I’m very, very grateful they had the courage to come to Canada because we have such a great life here compared to many parts of the world,” Andreas says.

Early challenges

When asked what challenges the first Ukrainians faced when they came to Canada, Andreas says that they faced obstacles similar to what different nationalities face today.

“It was horrible growing up because there was so much discrimination,” she says.

Growing up, Andreas’ first language was Ukrainian. While in school, whether in class or on the playground during recess, if she spoke in her native tongue and was reported to the teacher she would have to hold out her hand and be struck with a piece of leather. Thankfully, says Andreas, much has changed since then and Ukrainian culture has thrived over the years.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic that we have these different things from different cultures,” Andreas says. “In my opinion we are all equal. We have two eyes, two ears, a mouth, two hands and two feet. Just because we’re a different colour doesn’t mean we’re different.”

Celebrating culture

This is fortified by the BCUCF, which not only shows our similarities but also showcases Ukrainian culture and celebrates its differences, especially through dance.

“Every culture has different songs, music, dance, language, clothing. We have 3 children and all of them took Ukrainian dancing,” says Andreas.

Andreas’ grandchildren have also taken the dance classes and she believes her great-grandchildren will too.

The national dance of Ukraine is the Hopak but each part of the country has its own unique traditions.

“There are 26 regions in Ukraine. Each one has their own dress, costume design, songs, even dialect. It’s lively, pleasing to the eye and many of the dances tell stories. It’s just beautiful,” says Andreas.

Present and future come together

Gladys Andreas and son Chris will be hosting this year’s festival. | Photo courtesy of Gladys Andreas

Gladys Andreas and son Chris will be hosting this year’s festival. | Photo courtesy of Gladys Andreas

With over 180,000 people of Ukrainian descent in B.C. alone, the festival is sure to be a hit with workshops in creating Ukrainian bead jewellery, Ukrainian folksong workshops and a variety of national foods. Featuring dance competitions and Easter egg painting, the festival is definitely one for adults and kids alike.

“You should see how excited those kids are. Many look forward to the festival to compete,” she says.

Andreas also highlights the younger generation’s contributions to keeping the festival fresh and vibrant.

“We have to give so much credit to those young people at BCUCF because the rest of us are 50 and over. They come up with so many ideas and they’re much more computer savvy than we are. It’s really nice to see that it’s going to another generation,” says Andreas.

Andreas came up with the original idea for the festival after seeing places such as Edmonton having their own festivals and celebrations of Ukrainian dance and culture. She recalls remarking to her husband that it would be nice to have a similar one in B.C. where children could compete and learn about their culture.

Instead of just wondering, the 2012 Civic Treasure Award Recipient made it happen – which is how the BCUCF came to be.

Now, not only is the BCUCF now celebrating their 20th annual festival, Andreas is also working on an exhibit entitled “125 years of Ukrainians in Canada.”

“I’m working with the University of Alberta and the Ukrainian people section along with Surrey where the exhibit will be held,” says Andreas.

The exhibit is scheduled to take place from February to June 2016.

For more information on the festival go to