Stepping into the National Restaurant and Banquet Hall was almost like stepping halfway across the world.
The hall felt more like it was in Moscow after being decorated for the Taste of Russia gala event put on by the Little Russia Association of Canada.
Musicians, magicians and dancers all took the stage on Sept. 8 for the first of what will hopefully be an annual event, says the association’s founding director, Adel Naftaliev.
The association, which started in May, works to bring together and advocate for Russian-speaking cultural groups and integrate them into Canadian society. About 300,000 Russian speakers are in the GTA and about 750,000 in Canada.
“The purpose of the event was to show the diversity of the Russian-speaking community and ethnic groups in Toronto and Canada in general,” Naftaliev said. “Based on the responses we believe that we fulfilled the idea that we had in mind.”
About 200 people experienced the food and performances representing various cultures from the Russian-speaking community. In attendance were veterans from the Second World War, foreign diplomats and politicians including Ward 10 councillor James Pasternak and Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration Jason Kenney.
Although the mood at the event was festive the gala did occur just one day after a plane crash killed more than 40 members of a Russian hockey team, some of whom had connections to Toronto.
No one was more aware of this than the chair of Little Russia’s sports and leisure committee David Nemirovsky, a Toronto-native and former NHL player who now plays pro hockey in Russia.
“People mentioned it in their speeches,” he said. “I think it was felt all around the world because any time a plane crashes it’s terrible, but especially when it’s a whole sports team.”
Nonetheless, Nemirovsky said the event raised awareness of the Little Russia Association of Canada and helped to further the work his committee is doing to introduce newly arrived Russian-speaking youth to sports programs in the city.
“It’s a new committee and it’s a new organization so just by having the turnout that we had it gets people to know the organization better,” he said.
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