Mel Lastman Square was filled with the sound of traditional Russian folk music and the smell of classic eastern-European food. Photos of nesting dolls were hung at every corner and people walked around in bright red shirts, all celebrating Russian culture.
Video courtesy of Imbar Slavat
The annual Taste of Russia festival, which took place on June 11, is only in its second year, and is already one of the biggest Russian events in Toronto. The festival was a daylong affair, that had an itinerary filled with lots of singing, dancing and eating. There were activities for people of all ages, and all for the same purpose – to celebrate Russia’s very old and unique culture.
The event took nearly five months of meticulous planning by a committee that was started in a Facebook group for Russian friends, which is responsible for hosting a lot of other Russian events in Toronto throughout the year.
In fact, the majority of the people behind Taste of Russia were volunteers and sponsors, many of which were just regular Russian-Canadians that wanted an event which celebrated eastern-European culture and cuisine, something that had not been taking place at such a large scale prior to this event.
Russian-Canadians were looking for ways to bring people together, and one of the reasons why Taste of Russia was created was to do this, as well as introduce Russian culture to the general Canadian public.
“I think we found a niche that nobody took yet, because for three or four years there were no festivals, there were no celebrations,” said Alexander Rumyantsev, one of the main organizers of the festival.
“People asked us to do something that is entertaining, cultural and good for the family. I think we did a good job,” said Rumyantsev, who is already thinking of ways they could improve the festival for the next year.
Throughout the festival, there were performers and people in traditional Russian costumes walking around, and posing for photos with the participants.
Liudmila Gaidukova is just one of the many dancers that performed a traditional Russian dance during the festival, and she believes that this event is a way for Canadians to see another side of Russia, one that is often overlooked by the media.
“We are all happy to be here and represent our culture, we want to show people how united we are and show what have to offer,” said Gaidukova, who was wearing a green and white Russian dress.
“We want to show Canadians that Russians are very friendly people, that we like to sing and that we have a lot of things in common and that our cultures are very similar.”
One of the vendors, Igor Berlov, was part of a company that created the shirts for “Taste of Russia,” and helped fundraise to support this event. Not only does Berlov think that participating in Russian events is a great way to network and make connections with other business owners, he believes it is crucial for festivals like this to exist.
“It’s really important to celebrate any culture, especially in a multicultural country like Canada. People should know about different cultures around the world, and see how we are similar and also how we are different,” said Berlov.
“It’s also really enjoyable to share what kind of music, food and traditional clothes we have, and show what makes Russian culture unique,” he said.
However, one of the main reasons why so many Russians, whether Jewish or not, choose to participate in these events is to teach their kids and younger generations about what it means to be Russian, and let them experience the richness and beauty of this culture.
“We can’t let our kids forget our roots and our history – our kids are born here and I think it’s really important for them to know the other side, and where we come from. I think it’s all for them,” said Rumyantsev.