Montreal’s Greeks gather for Independence Day celebration

Hundreds attend annual commemoration of historic event

Martin C. Barry

Hundreds of patriotic Greek Montrealers converged on the Hellenic Community Centre in Côte des Neiges on March 26 to take part in the annual Greek Independence Day gala.

Greeks trace their modern-era quest for independence back to 1821 when the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire began and continued for more than a decade.

A decade-long struggle

Following a protracted war in which Greek patriots received support from Russia, Britain and France, Greece finally received recognition as an independent nation in 1832. Today, the Greek Revolution is celebrated on March 25 each year, with ceremonies taking place in the days leading up to and following that date.

Among the dignitaries seated at the head table were former Canadian Ambassador to Greece Robert W. Peck who was the Philhellene of the Year (and who was accompanied by his wife Maria Pantazi-Peck), Greek Consul General in Montreal Nicolas Sigalas, Park Extension city councillor Mary Deros, Vimy Liberal MP Eva Nassif and Laval city councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis.

Ouellette Parade Marshall

Also among the dignitaries were Parc Extension city councillor Mary Deros, Saint-Laurent Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa and Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal President Nicholas T. Pagonis. Chomedey Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette was presented as the official marshal for this year’s Greek Independence Day parade on Jean Talon St. in Park Extension a week later.

Chomedey Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette, left, is this year’s Greek Independence Day Parade Marshall. HCGM president Nicholas T. Pagonis on the right.
Chomedey Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette, left, is this year’s Greek Independence Day Parade Marshall. HCGM president Nicholas T. Pagonis on the right.

Among several people presented with special plaques recognizing their years of efforts and contributions to the Montreal Hellenic community were Panagioti Tzima. A Canadian citizen for more than 50 years, Tzima came to this country from Kastoria, Western Macedonia. In Canada he became an engineer and worked for many years in the pulp and paper industry. Also honoured with a plaque was World War II Greek armed forces veteran Theofanis Moutis.

Young Greeks’ contributions

A choir of children from Montreal-area Greek schools, led by Multimedia music producer Maria Diamantis, performed the Greek and Canadian national anthems as well as other Hellenic folk compositions. A group of Greek youths also staged a theatrical reenactment depicting a class in a clandestine Greek school in early 19th century Greece during the time of the Ottoman oppression.

Former Ambassador Peck and his wife presented the HCGM with a special gift: a large painting depicting ‘Mykonos.’ In an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia, Peck, who served two terms in Greece with the most recent ending last November, said: “I was in Greece at a very difficult time, but needless to say we worked hard to try to promote opportunities between both of our countries.

Former Ambassador honored

“The many challenges facing Greece were such that I was very, very touched by what I saw at a very human level,” he added. “Now with the refugee crisis on top of Greece’s existing problems it makes life for everyday Greeks that much more difficult. But my message as a friend of Greece is that we have to continue to work and support Greece in good times and bad – Canada always has – and to try to find ways that help the country move forward.”

In a speech, HCGM President Pagonis said the example of the 1821 Greek patriots along with the “high values of the Greek revolution, including freedom, democracy and humanity” should be followed today in the context of the current crises in Greece involving economic hardships, refugees and the dangers of terrorism. Pagonis had special praise for the women of Greece who have been making special efforts to feed the refugees. “This is exactly what Hellenism stands for,” he later told Newsfirst Multimedia.