By Fatima Husain
Toronto’s largest street festival – Taste of the Danforth – is all set to celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend. The annual summer food festival, scheduled to run from August 10th – 12th, is an embodiment of both its Greek heritage and multicultural Toronto.
With its humble beginnings in the year 1994, Taste of the Danforth has grown to become one of Toronto’s signature events and therefore a key tourist attraction. This year, nearly 1.6 million visitors are expected to visit the three-day-long festival to enjoy food, entertainment, culture, music, arts and sports.
In this VIBE TALKS interview News Desk Coordinator Fatima Husain speaks with Howard Litchman – Spokesperson, Taste of the Danforth
Fatima: Taste of the Danforth celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. What’s new in store for the visitors at the festival?
Howard: Well, lot’s of family friendly free entertainment. So for the 25th anniversary, we’ve got three incredible entertainment stages. We also have Hollywood on the Danforth which features a triple treat of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a film that 20th Century Fox is releasing on November 2nd. So we’ve got a Queen Tribute band, a look-alike Freddie (Mercury) contest and a Queen Karaoke. We’ve got a DIY experience with Art on Sneakers, a Let’s Dance with 10 different cultural groups teaching people how to dance. And of course, we have our Sports Zone with the Leafs’, the Raptors, Argos, Toronto FC and the Toronto Rock. People have an opportunity to participate in activities, win prizes and maybe meet one of your heroes.
Our classical ‘It’s All Greek to Me’ section involves breaking plates. So breaking plates was outlawed in Greece a number of years ago, in 1969 and we are bringing it back to Taste of the Danforth because it is not illegal here. And you get to let out a little bit of your tensions while you are smashing plates!
Fatima: How has the festival helped in shaping a street festival culture in Toronto?
Howard: Taste of the Danforth is really the ‘grandfather’ of them all. It started 25 years ago – really one of the first times that a street got together and formed an actual coalition or co-op where they advertised together and said: “Come on down and taste our food fair.” Now imagine that was 25 years ago! Even today, Taste of the Danforth owned by Greektown Danforth BIA chaired by Constantine Voidonicolas, the local restaurateurs and retailers and no tasting item costs more than $6!
Fatima: Let’s take a walk down memory lane, Howard. The festival first began in 1994 with around 5000 attendees at the event. Looking back, how far has Taste of the Danforth evolved?
Howard: Well, it’s come from 5000 to 1.6 million – it’s more from being a Greek festival to a multicultural festival with a dollop of Suzuki on top. We still homage to the fact that the heart of the festival in Greektown. So we have a Greek stage and we have It’s All Greek To Me plate breaking experience. But we also have Mr. & Miss Asia (Toronto Pageant Competition). On our Celebrity Stage we have forty Bollywood dancers – we have 10 different ethnic communities participating and teaching dancing on our Let’s Dance stage. As a net result, over 800,000 attendees self identify as being ethnic because they understand Danforth has morphed, much like the city into a multicultural mosaic.
Fatima: Taste of the Danforth is obviously a celebration of the Greek culture. How important is Greek culture to Toronto?
Howard: Every culture we have is part of the mosaic. One of the most beautiful parts about Canada, Ontario and Toronto is unlike the States which is a melting pot – which sort of says: “Hey, you all have to become American.” In Canada, we can live and have vibrant communities. And that’s the beauty of Canada – different cultures living side-by-side and people from other cultures wanting to have a taste of that experience.
Fatima: The festival serves as a tourist magnet for the city. According to data published on the Taste of the Danforth website, last year the festival’s single weekend economic impact was a $106 million dollars. What are the expectations for this year’s event?
Howard: We think this yea’s event is going to be even bigger and better. Lot’s of people have been pouring out support, given the recent tragedy on the Danforth. It is going to be our 25th anniversary so the program is going to be bigger and better. The economic impact only measures (revenue generated) from tourists – it’s got a huge economic impact on small restauranteurs and retailers on the street as well. One of the messages we got over the past couple of weeks is that it’s not about going down to the Danforth – the Danforth is everybody’s neighbourhood. Everyone goes – for birthdays, celebrations, just a stroll, to sit on the outdoor patios. So, this year we are saying #DanforthStrong, #TorontoStrong together. We are welcoming everybody to come and visit.
Fatima: In light of the recent tragic shootings, is there anything else you would like to say to the community and listeners in general?
Howard: In general, the shooting really wasn’t about the Danforth. It just happened to have happened on the Danforth. It’s one of the safest, most family friendly festivals in the country. Everyone who comes and goes - everybody from the media, to the police always say so. I think it’s also important that you don’t let a singular act of violence define a festival, define a street, define a city or define a country. That’s why it’s important to have #DanforthStrong, #TorontoStong together by showing that we are all together in supporting the city, the street, supporting the small restauranteurs and retailers. I think we are making an important statement that we will not let these kind of actions change us.
For more information on Taste of the Danforth click here.
Don’t forget to catch the VIBE105 Street Team at the festival - Noon to 10pm – Saturday August 11th & Sunday August 12 - for fun giveaways on site!