St. Catharines Slovaks Repeat Success

Niagara200Once again, as part of the Niagara Folk Arts Festival, a cohort of volunteers from St. Catharines Canadian Slovak League Branch 31 opened the doors and their arms to entertain, feed, and educate the Canadian Public at large. The festival, oldest running heritage festival in all of Canada, began two weeks ago, offering the public a sample of the culture of the various participating ethnic groups from every continent of the planet. Saturday, June 1st was the Slovaks’ turn to shine and shine they did.

Although Slovakia is one of the smallest ethnic groups represented in the Festival, its Open House has become renown throughout the Niagara Peninsula over the years for its outstanding entertainment, culinary delights, and its cultural display. This year’s Open House lived up to that reputation and may have even raised the bar – this year’s visitors raved about the food, were awed by the entertainment, and had many questions about the splendid cultural and historical display.

The Niagara Area Slovaks were greatly aided in their efforts by Margaret Dvorsky and Alena Melas of the Slovak Canadian Heritage Museum. The museum president and fellow board member arrived in the morning in a van packed to bursting full of articles, artifacts, maps, pictures, and even a glass display case and a life size mannequin. They immediately set to work and by opening time at 3:00 pm a wonderful display stood ready for the public to explore. It depicted Slovak history and the role of Sts. Cyril and Methodious; the glass display case housed wood carvings and various other handicrafts; the mannequin was decked out in a beautiful Slovak ‘kroj’, attracting glances from curious young men. Even the wall was adorned with pictures of the geographical beauty of the Land beneath the Tatras. When the Open House closed, the display had to be struck, the van carefully packed and a long drive home awaited the two Museum workers – a full day’s work for five men, executed by two hardworking Slovak women. St.Catharines Branch 31 is very grateful to Margaret and Alena for the hard work and sacrifices they make in helping to enhance the reputation of the annual St.Catharines Slovak Open House.


Superb entertainment was provided by the Vychodna Dancers from Mississauga. From their large repertoire of Slovak folk dances they always seem to know which numbers will please their St. Catharines audiences the most. Their creative choreography and precision are delight to watch. First time visitors to the Open House assumed they were watching a professional group and could not believe that this was a collection of youth with day jobs and/or full time school studies. Branch 31 is very grateful to Dusan Dorich for bringing the group and to Vychodna president Mario Hrapko and members of the entire dance ensemble for the excellent performance. “They make us all look good!” laughed Dave Woodhouse, happy president of Branch 31.

Musical entertainment was provided by the Button Boxers from the Slovenian Lipa Park. Cherished friends of the local Slovaks, they have been a part of the Slovak Open House for several years. They provide delightful dance and listening music with their button box accordions. They are crowd pleasers wherever they go. The band Soundscape from Welland, under the direction of Julian Hlywka, deftly played favourite Slovak folk songs and as well as music from a host of other countries and origins, impressing listeners with their wide repertoire. Couples could not refrain from getting up and dancing to the rhythms and romantic music of the mandolin and accordion.

Slovak Folk Arts “Ambassador” Hailey Slamka, executed her role as hostess to the ambassadors from the other ethnic clubs with aplomb and dignity. Arrrayed in a beautiful Slovak “kroj” sewn by her grandmother Helena Slamka, she welcomed her fellow “diplomats” on stage and introduced them to the audience. In the audience sat her support group and entourage, grandparents Milan and Helena Slamka, proud parents Stefan Slamka and Linda Proste-Slamka and sister Amanda, a former Slovak Ambassador herself. Slovaks attending the Slovak Day in Milton, Ontario on July 14th will get to meet Hailey as she is also the Branch 31 princess/rep.

The delicious food took many hours to prepare. Rebecca Alfieri, chief organizer, began to schedule “work brigades” several weeks before the event. Volunteers met on the appointed days to prepare cabbage rolls, meat-on-a-stick, and other delicacies. The food prep supervisor was Hana Vargovic, keeper of all the secrets and knowledge that make the final dishes so delicious. She was supported by a core group of volunteers. On the day of the event some volunteers spent much of the day in the hot kitchen and never even got to fully enjoy the wonderful entertainment.

Unfortunately, the volunteers are too many in number to mention here by name, but their selfless toil was indispensable to the success of the Open House. “Most employers can't get people to work this hard for wages…..our members do it for pride in their club. I can’t even begin to express my thanks and how much I am humbled by being President of such an amazing group of people,” said Dave Woodhouse, tired but happy Br. 31 president at the end of the day. “No matter how big or small your contribution, I thank each and every volunteer from the bottom of my heart,” he added.

Text and photos: Stephen Reistetter