I recently attended the Montreal Ukrainian Festival, held in a pretty little park in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood. The day was a “Goldilocks” kind of day—not too hot, not too cold, not too cloudy, not too sunny—just perfect. The setting was simply gorgeous with huge trees providing ample shade while still allowing the sun to peek through the leaves and dapple the faces of children as they chased each other throughout the park. All around me friends and family warmly greeted one another, everyone dressed in traditional clothing, beautifully displaying the intricate and colourful embroidery on fine cotton. Here and there people could be found perusing authentic Ukrainian wares set up under tents by various vendors, lining up for deliciously decadent food, or sitting together and watching the performances of the different dance troupes. Everyone was incredibly friendly, quick to smile and laugh, and so proud of their unique heritage and traditions.
After taking a portrait of two women, they inquired as to why or who I was photographing for. I explained my project to them and one of the women remarked “Well, travelling around Montreal is just like travelling around the world!” And she is absolutely correct. Many times I have attended a festival and felt as though I really was walking down a crowded street in Italy, a spacious park in Peru, a bustling market in Ghana, or even a lively community centre in Japan. Without having to submit myself to full body checks executed by airport security, or worrying about connecting or cancelled flights, I get to experience all of the perks of travelling, and no jet-lag to boot. This city hosts an amazing variety of cultural festivals, open to anyone with an interest in learning something new… and sometimes they just might discover a new part of themselves.
Montreal Ukrainian Festival 2016
What strikes me as most interesting is not just the obvious pride people have in regards to their birth rights, but also the intense love they have for one another and for the lands they have left behind. When I think about what it means to be a Canadian I inevitably declare my love for maple syrup and poutine, but I never really contemplate my heritage much further. Sure, we all have Canadian flags permanently attached to all of our luggage, but it’s not out of pride for our country, it’s to announce to the rest of the world that we’re not Americans. Tim Hortons and Molson Canadian have the monopoly on cheesy commercials that demonstrate our supposed Canadian-ness: early morning wake-ups to drive the kids to hockey practice, teaching locals in Thailand how to play soccer on the beach and then cracking open bottles of beer, or even using hockey players to pose as restaurant staff to surprise the customers. But are any of these commercials realistic, do they really show what it is to be an average Canadian? The truth is that the country and its inhabitants are spread out over a large area and we don’t necessarily all know, or even understand, each other. I’ve often heard that Albertans don’t like Quebecers, and Quebecers don’t like Ontarians, and Winnipegers don’t like anyone, and the entire East coast has just given up and keep to themselves, and the North has simply been forgotten. How can we come to agreement on what it means to be a Canadian when we are all so divided?
For many years I didn’t celebrate Canada Day; I couldn’t agree with the day of commemoration for various political reasons and it became a day just like any other. With my project in mind, this year I had left myself with no choice but to attend the festivities. I chose to attend the Canada Day Parade that took place downtown since I’m a sucker for a parade. The tender moments of humanity that I witnessed there took my breath away. I photographed Syrian women holding a handmade sign that thanked Canadians for welcoming them and their people, for giving them a new home away from war and devastation. I saw Hungarian, Italian, and Chinese flags waving in the wind, always with a Canadian flag in hand as well. There were families from India, and Brazil, and Indonesia that were fully decked out in red clothing with fake tattoos of Canadian flags plastered on their faces, all waving and smiling as the parade passed by.
Canada Day 2016
To me, being Canadian means that we are able to make room for people of different backgrounds, we can accept them as our own, and it gives us the luxury to constantly redefine the landscape, to not remain stagnant and oppose new experiences and ideas. It means that we can open the doors to discussion and realize that we are not all so different as we were taught to believe. It means that we can all come together in Montreal and perpetually celebrate our diverse multi-culturalism with open minds and little judgement, because at the core of it all we just want to let loose and have fun once in a while.
Fiesta del Peru 2016
Boy, do we have fun! From the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to Eurofest, to Fiesta del Peru, to Italian Week—and so many more—this city is clearly all about the fun. And really good food. But aside from that, these festivals allow us all to learn more about the people that we share this planet with. We are incredibly lucky in Montreal to have so many chances to attend events that can both broaden our horizons and fuel our compassion towards one another.
And we don’t even have to worry about getting stuck on a layover at JFK airport.