The Cossacks will be riding once again for Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival in 2022.
Festival president Kayla Gillis said it has been exciting planning an in-person event again after seeing the celebration cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been two years where we had a virtual program that was featured online on our YouTube and Facebook page. It almost feels like we’re planning the first festival again, kind of starting from scratch and bringing out some new things while following all protocols and regulations from the government,” Gillis said.
The 2022 festival will be capped at half-capacity, allowing for the sale of around 5,000 tickets. Some ticket holders still have their passes held over from previous cancelled events.
It was devastating to see in-person events postponed during the pandemic for the first time in more than 50 years, Gillis said. While it was a difficult decision, ensuring the safety of patrons and performers remained the top priority for festival organizers.
“We took a hit financially with not being able to have a festival for two years as we are a non-profit foundation, and all our funds come from government grants or from our annual festival,” Gillis said. “We’re hoping that we’re able to have a good year going into 2022 and get things back on track.”
While it has been fun planning a three-day celebration of Ukrainian culture, there is an added layer of stress in 2022 due to COVID-19 public health rules and regulations. Festival organizers are carefully monitoring all protocols as they are subject to change.
The 2022 event will mark the 57th year of Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival.
Gillis said entertainment for the festival has been secured and all cultural activities are ready to hit the ground running. A list of entertainment acts will be released in January.
“Everybody is eager to get going. You know, we’ve had groups reach out to us that want to perform, and unfortunately, we can only have so many performers come in a year. We have entertainers that are ready to go for 2023 because they couldn’t come for 2022.”
Even when the festival was hosting virtual performances during the height of the pandemic, they had a robust response from past performers providing videos from previous occasions, while others donned their masks to host COVID-19 performances.
“When we reached out to them, they were more than happy to provide [content] because they want people to know they are still going as well,” Gillis said. “For not being able to perform in two years, a lot of the groups ... [are] just waiting for that crowd. They’re waiting for people to cheer. They just want to entertain.”
Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival is an incredibly immersive experience, Gillis said, with different activities for guests of any age to participate in.
The festival offers a mix of indoor and outdoor activities and with 50 per cent capacity, Gillis hopes people will have ease of mind attending activities.
“Come out and you can see how Ukrainians party, the different cultures, the dances, the foods. We have different cultural displays: wheat weaving, our bread bake ovens, pysanky writing — that’s Ukrainian Easter eggs. It’s an experience in itself,” Gillis said. “If you have not experienced it, come out and then you will definitely come back for more.”
One of the signature features of Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival is the Cossack Camp.
“They have their fire going and they always have a pig roasting. They feed you and they give you drink and it’s fun,” Gillis said. “It wouldn’t be a festival without them.”
One of her personal highlights of the festival is the talent competition featuring youth from across Canada, along with young people from the United States when possible.
It is a neat experience to watch these performances because you can see the culture being carried on across all generations, Gillis said.
“A lot of the dancers that I have seen on the talent competition stage are now performing on our grandstand.”
Professional performers appear on the grandstand stage for four grandstand shows. Gillis noted at any given time, there are four active stages with performers at the Ukrainian Festival site, along with beer gardens, poker parties and the return of the festival’s perogy eating contest.
The festival offers something new every year, she said, such as bringing in another cultural group to showcase. In the past, this has included different dance groups.
“We want to make sure that we capture the audience for everybody,” Gillis said. “It’s not just for Ukrainians to come out.”
The festival marks an exciting week in the Dauphin area, she added, as the city’s chamber of commerce organizes a street fair on the Thursday of the Ukrainian Festival weekend.
“There’s way more attractions in the town than just the festival. There are a few historical sites around the [city] of Dauphin, there are tours involved as well. There are new north gate trails that border where the festival happens.”
Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival will take place from July 29-31, 2022. Tickets go on sale Jan. 6 to honour Ukrainian Christmas.
“It’s been two years since we’ve been able to have something, so come and enjoy the experience again,” Gillis said.
For more information, visit cnuf.ca.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun