Toronto’s “Little Athens” sprang up in the sixties, bringing the tastes and sounds of the Mediterranean through shish kebab houses, tavernas, kafenions, and bouzouki music. Although many Greeks moved out of Toronto to suburbs in Etobicoke, York, North York, Mississauga, and Scarborough, the Greek business district has flourished for the last three decades. Today, along the Danforth strip between Chester and Jones Avenues, restaurants serve traditional Greek food and mezes to a new clientele.
Toronto’s Greek community numbers around 130,000, a striking contrast to the 20 Greek names that appeared in the 1907 Might’s Directory. Many of the first Greek immigrants in Canada were young men, most of them refugees, who came in the 1890s to work in agriculture or in Northern Ontario’s mines, forests, and railways. The exception to these working-class settlers was Dr. Petros Constantinides, an eminent scholar and surgeon who arrived in Toronto in 1864. Today, the community is proud of its more than 15,000 professionals.
In 1909, members of the community established the St. George Greek Orthodox congregation and a year later opened a church in a former warehouse on Jarvis Street. One of the earliest organizations was the Ladies Philoptochos (Friends to the Poor) Benevolent Society which set up a school in the church building and provided social services for newcomers.
During the next decade, the Greek presence became more evident as businessmen opened restaurants, fruit stores, ice-cream parlours, shoe-shine shops, and billiard halls along Yonge, College, and Queen Streets. The Greek Community of Toronto was founded in 1911. Greeks were often victims of discrimination during the early years of the 20th century. This discrimination peaked in August of 1918 when veterans of the First World War, frustratrated with Greece’s late entry into the conflict, led a riot which resulted in the destruction of many Greek businesses.
In the early 1930s, the first cultural organizations and regional clubs were established to preserve Greek language and traditions. One of the first was the Helleno-Macedonian Brotherhood of Ion Dragoumis, which was established in 1936. Youth groups and the Greek Orthodox parish schools became instrumental in teaching the language and heritage of the Hellenes to the children of early immigrants. Large communal efforts during the Second World War and beyond included the Greek War Relief Fund, set up to assist the homeland.
Following the Second World War, another wave of Greek settlers, most from Northern Greece—Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace—came to Canada, many to Toronto. In the 1950s, the Greek community moved into the Danforth area—originally a neighbourhood for the Anglo-Saxon proletariat and later an Italian enclave.
Today, numerous restaurants and businesses, Greek street signs, and the classical architecture of the National Bank of Greece and other buildings bearing the names of Hellenic associations such as the Pan-Arcadian Federation, the Pan-Macedonian Association, the Pontion Brotherhood, the political party offices of the PASOK and the Democracy signify the neighbourhood’s most prevalent and flourishing culture.
Prominent Greek Torontonians have included the internationally-renowned soprano Teresa Stratas, who began her career singing for nickels at her father’s Cabbagetown restaurant. Andreas Papandreou, the late Prime Minister of Greece, and many other Cabinet Ministers have been members of Toronto’s Greek community.
BANK OF CYPRUS, REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE, (Tel. 416-461-5570, 658 Danforth Ave., Suite 302). Contact: Dimitri Maras.
POPULAR BANK OF CYPRUS, REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE, (Tel. 416-466-8180, 484 Danforth Ave).
THE NATIONAL BANK OF GREECE, (Tel. 416-461-7541, 661 Danforth Ave, and Tel. 416-751-6500, 2290 Lawrence Ave. E).
GREEK ORTHODOX EDUCATION, (Tel. 416-463-7222, 30 Scarsdale Rd).
NEW YEAR’S. The Greek Orthodox ring in the new year on January 1 with St. Basil’s Day. At family celebrations, good luck is in store for the recipient of a gold coin found in the vasilopeta (New Year’s bread).
INDEPENDENCE PARADE. On the Sunday nearest March 25, children in national costumes, marching bands, and horsemen participate in a huge parade down Danforth Avenue. Store owners raise the Greek flag, and spectators wave blue and white banners. The parade commemorates Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821 and coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Both occasions are marked by church services, parades, speeches, and cultural programs.
EASTER. Some of Toronto’s residents may have witnessed an Easter candlelight procession at midnight around one of the many Greek Orthodox churches. Easter is the most important religious festival for the Greek Orthodox Church. After the midnight service, traditional Greek dishes and wine (retsina) are served with Easter eggs dyed red to symbolize love, the blood of Christ, and the renewal of life. Traditional food includes unleavened bread, mageritsa (a soup made of entrails of baby lamb seasoned with spring onions and egg lemon sauce), and baby lamb roasted on a spit. After dinner everyone samples the tsoureki (a sweet bread ring decorated with a red Easter egg).
THE FEAST DAY OF THE HOLY CROSS. September 14, sees the Greek Orthodox community commemorate the finding of the Holy Cross by the Byzantine Empress St. Helena.
OCHI DAY. Greeks wear national costumes in another parade down the Danforth on Ochi Day (Memorial Day), which honours those who lost their lives during the Second World War.
AVRAMIS GREEK TV SHOW, (Tel. 416-481-2941, 28 St. Clements Ave). Rogers Community Channel 10, Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
CHIR FM, (Tel. 416-467-4677, www.chir.com, 301 Donlands Ave., 2nd Floor). Broadcasting online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Director: Mike Agathos.
CIRV RADIO INTERNATIONAL, 88.9 FM, (Tel. 416-537-1088, 1087 Dundas St. W). Monday to Friday, 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturday, 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Producer: Paul Marques.
EDO KAI TORA, OMNI TV, (Tel. 416-260-0047, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Sunday, 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Producer: Stan Papulkas.
EVODOMADA (THE GREEK-CANADIAN WEEKLY NEWSPAPER), (Tel. 416-461-3519, Fax 416-461-0774, 1009 Pape Ave). Publisher: Bill Sklavos.
GREEK CANADIAN RADIO, CHCR 92.7 Cable FM, (Tel. 416-465-1112, 437 Danforth Ave., 3rd floor). Seven days a week, 24 hours, with eight newscasts. President and Producer: Peter Maniatakos.
GREEK PRESS (bi-weekly), (Tel. 416-465-3243, Fax 416-462-3623, 6 Chester Ave). Publisher: Kostas Kranias.
GREEK PRESS PUBLISHERS AND TRANSLATORS, (Tel. 416-778-7607, Fax 416-778-0811).
HELLENIC CANADIAN CHRONICLES (XPONIKA), (Tel. 416-465-4628, 437 Danforth Ave., 3rd floor). A weekly newspaper. Publisher: Peter Maniatakos.
LAMPSIS, OMNI TV, (Tel. 416-260-0047, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Sunday, 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
MUSIKH PARE LASE, CHEX TV, (Tel. 416-461-4244, 270 Donlands Ave). Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Contact: Kostas Mike Agathos.
ONTARIO’S GREEK TELEPHONE DIRECTORY & ALMANAC, (Tel. 416-445-0111, 939 Lawrence Ave. E., P.O. Box 47529, Don Mills).
ODYSSEY TV, (Tel. 416-462-1200, 437 Danforth Ave., Suite 300). Contact: Peter Maniatakos.
PATRIDES: A CANADIAN REVIEW IN GREEK-ENGLISH, (Tel. 416-921-4229, P.O. Box 266, Station O). Publisher: Thomas Saras.
THE GREEK JOURNAL, (Tel. 416-406-2949, 45 Overlea Blvd., P.O. Box 22064). Contact: Nikos Terzis.
CANADIAN HELLENIC CONGRESS, (Tel. (866) 355-4637, www.helleniccongress.com, 1550 Don Mills Rd, Suite 705). President: Crist Geronikolos.
HELLENIC CANADIAN CONGRESS, (Tel. 416-463-9714, Toronto Office: 846 Pape Ave., 2nd floor), is a nation-wide organization representing Greek communities and Greek organizations across Canada. President: Jim Sidiropoulos.
HELLENIC HERITAGE FOUNDATION, (Tel. 416-447-7107, www.hhf.ca, 18 Wynford Dr., Suite 503). President: John Dagonas.
PAN-MACEDONIAN ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-466-1951; Fax 416-466-7335, 406 Danforth Ave). Founded in 1960, it represents some 60 associations from Macedonia, Greece. President: James G. Karas.
THE GREEK COMMUNITY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-425-2485, 30 Thorncliffe Park Dr). Established in 1911, as an umbrella organization for three of the city’s 12 Greek churches. The Hellenic Cultural Centre houses the organization’s central offices along with a Greek history and language school, dance, theatre, and music departments. The centre maintains a museum with books, copies of classic sculptures, and the remnants of an authentic Mycaenean-era mosaic. President: Kostas Menegakis.
ALL SAINTS CULTURAL CENTRE, (Tel. 416-221-4611, 3125 Bayview Ave).
ALEXANDER THE GREAT YOUTH CENTRE AND ATHLETIC COMPLEX, (Tel. 416-755-8867, 1385 Warden Ave). All three centres have choirs, dance groups, and soccer teams.
There are many Greek regional clubs which organize their own social and cultural events:
PANARCADIAN FEDERATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-778-9471, 450 Danforth Ave).
CRETANS ASSOCIATION OF TORONTO KNOSSOS, (Tel. 416-463-3965, 131 Coxwell Ave).
CYPRIOT COMMUNITY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-696-7400, Fax 416-696-9465, 6 Thorncliffe Park Dr). President: Sotirios Nicolaou.
FOLK DANCING GROUP OF THE GREEK COMMUNITY, (Tel. 416-696-4700, 6 Thorncliffe Park Dr).
GREEK CANADIAN SENIOR CITIZEN CLUB, (Tel. 416-465-2020, 864 Pape Ave).
GREEK COMMUNITY OF METROPOLITAN TORONTO INC. SOCIAL SERVICE CENTRE, (Tel. 416-469-1155, 760 Pape Ave). Provides family and individual counselling, information, and orientation, and holds weekly women’s group meetings.
GREEK COMMUNITY YOUTH CENTRE (ALEXANDER THE GREAT), (Tel. 416-755-8867, 1385 Warden Ave). President: Costas Varlkosta.
GREEK MUSICIANS ASSOCIATION/ORPHEUS CHOIR OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-530-4428, 651 Dufferin St). Performs programs of original Greek music. The choir of Orpheus participated in the opening of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
GREEK ORTHODOX EDUCATION, (Tel. 416-463-7222, 40 Donlands Ave).
GREEK ORTHODOX FAMILY SERVICES AND COUNSELLING, (Tel. 416-462-1740, 40 Donlands Ave). Counselling and referral agency specializing in legal, financial, housing, medical, employment, and education issues. Also offers interpreter services and arranges short-term accommodation.
HELLENIC BENEFIT ASSOCIATION ANTARIKON, (Tel. 416-656-1794, 1774 St. Clair Ave. W).
HELLENIC CANADIAN BOARD OF TRADE, (Tel. 416-410-4228, P.O. Box 801, 31 Adelaide St. E). President: Aristotle Christou.
HELLENIC CANADIAN FEDERATION OF ONTARIO CHARITABLE & EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION, (Tel. 416-463-9714, 846 Pape Ave., 2nd floor).