St. Catharines Open House a Success

Pre slovenskú verziu článku si v okienku vpravo zvoľte 'Slovenčina' (namiesto English (United Kingdom))

OH2012_200Every year the Slovaks of St. Catharines open their doors and their hearts to the local community, inviting the public at large to come and experience Slovak culinary delights, watch some superb Slovak folk dancing, listen to some traditional Slovak music, and learn about Slovak culture from the Slovak Heritage Museum  display. This event is part of the annual Niagara Folk Arts Festival, the longest continuous-running Heritage festival in all of Canada.  The Slovak Community, led by Branch 31 of the CSL, was a founding member of the Folk Arts Council and the Slovak Open House continues to be one the most visited sites during the sixteen day festival.

The hard work of preparing the Slovak culinary delights began several weeks prior to the event by groups of volunteers organized by Rebecca Alfieri, and supervised by our ethnic food expert Hana Vargovic.

Volunteers gave up some Saturday mornings, and the Thursday and Friday evenings before the event to partake in cabbage rolling bees, and meat-on-a-stick rallies, both labour intensive and time-consuming activities. On the big day, even though the hall was filled with people, visitors did not have to wait long to be served as the kitchen volunteers had been expertly organized by chef Michael Sirotnik into an efficient team, delivering the food quickly, and with a smile. A very welcome “guest volunteer” also working up a sweat was Michael’s colleague and fellow chef, Stan Pockaj, C.C.C., of Slovenian extraction but keen on helping out the Slovak community. Many visitors commented on the delicious food, presentation, and efficiency, but the organizers and volunteers could only smile, accustomed to hearing these accolades every year.

The Superb Slovak Folk Dancing was provided by the Vychodna Dancers who became a permanent fixture of the Slovak Open House years ago. For years now, they have endeared themselves to Niagara audiences and won many fans even outside the Slovak community with their skill, energy, and exciting choreography. They continue to be a large part of the popularity and success of the St. Catharines Slovak Open House.

One of the many hats worn by Rebecca is also that of entertainment co-ordinator, and she prepared a highly entertaining and engaging program. In addition to The Vychodna Dancers, she invited the Button Boxers accordion band from the Slovenian Community to help entertain at the Open House. The Button Boxers began the afternoon performances and did an excellent job warming up the audience and setting the stage (pun intended) for the acts to follow. Also part of the program was the band Soundscape from Welland under the direction of Julian Hlywka. This eclectic band plays a wide range of musical genres, including a number of Slovak songs which they performed with typical Slovak gusto during the course of the late afternoon.

Just before supper hour the entourage of young “ambassadors” arrived, colourfully arrayed in the costumes of the various ethnic groups participating in the Folk Arts Festival. They were welcomed to the Slovak venue by Frank Girhiny Jr., this year’s Slovak ambassador. He spoke with eloquence and poise beyond his years, proving more than worthy of his title. (He comes from a long line of ambassadors and Slovak Day reps – the Sitar-Pizzicalla dynasty).

The historical and cultural aspect of the Open House was significantly enriched by the display from the Slovak Canadian Heritage Museum, brought to St. Catharines by its president and curator Margaret Dvorsky and vice-president Helen Bucic. Examples and explanations of Slovak history, geography, and folk art were carefully arranged to enable visitors to easily absorb information about Slovaks and Slovakia. A new and exciting addition to the exhibit this year was the section on the history of local Slovaks and their presence in the Niagara Peninsula.

This project was initiated only recently and is still in its infancy. Slovaks of the area are encouraged to take part by providing the compilers of the project access to any photographs, stories, memorabilia, and/or documents of family members who first came to settle in this area. Videographers are also ready to interview and document “live memories” of individuals who have stories to tell of their arrival and first years in Canada.  Eventually, present and future family members will have access to this warehouse of information and be able to learn about their family’s early beginnings in the Niagara Peninsula. Anyone wishing to take part, please contact Mary Sirotnik (nee Kosco) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Anne Smith (nee Kosco) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Jim Zahorchak at 905 – 321 – 4023 or Stephen Reistetter at 905 – 684 – 6489.

It was a tired but happy David Woodhouse, president of Branch 31, who mopped his brow when the last of the visitors had gone. The event had been a success and Mr. Woodhouse expressed his gratitude to the many volunteers that made it happen. Holy Rosary Hall in Thorold, site of the Slovak Open House, had filled up moments after the doors opened at three in the afternoon and had remained full until closing time at seven in the evening, resounding with applause, laughter, and sounds of joy.  If only people knew how much effort it takes to stage an event like this and make it look effortless…

The Open House could not have taken place without the hardworking volunteers, too many to mention individually here; many sweated in the kitchen all afternoon and got to see little of the wonderful performances. To all our organizers/volunteers, kudos and heartfelt thanks – you made it happen!

Presenting the Slovak Ambassador:

Frank Girhiny Jr.
Branch 31 representative for the July 15th Slovak Day is eighteen year old Frank Girhiny of St. Catharines. He is the son of proud parents Frank and Jeannie Girhiny, and grandson of Joe and Helen Pizzacalla (nee Sitar).  Frank finished a year at Ryerson and will be persuing his studies in Geographical Information Systems at Niagara College in the fall. He intends to make his mark in the business world upon the completion of his studies.  During the winter months Frank is an avid fencer, specializing in the sabre while during the summer months he can be found on the soccer pitch or the golf links. Frank is a third generation Slovak Day ‘prince’ – his grandmother Helen was a Slovak Day “kraska” (the term was later changed to prince/princess), and his mother and three aunts also represented the Slovak Community at Slovak Days and as Folk Arts Ambassadors. At the recent Niagara Folk Arts Festival, Frank was selected Ambassador of the Year by his fellow ambassadors.  Frank is looking forward to representing Branch 31 Slovaks, continuing the family tradition started by his grandmother Helen.

Text and photos: Stephen Reistetter

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