PORTFOLIO: Small in numbers, strong at heart

Written for The/La Source, a biweekly newspaper and site focused on diversity and community. Published in print (Oct 16 2016) and online.

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The Lithuanian Community of British Columbia is a non-profit organization that helps to promote the Lithuanian culture in Metro Vancouver as well as Vancouverite and Canadian culture among Lithuanians. Their upcoming Harvest Festival will help share Lithuanian food and culture with both Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians. 

“Relatively low number of Lithuanians living in Vancouver and financing are the two main challenges of the community at this time. [Lithuanians are] probably one of the smallest ethnic communities in Vancouver,” says Linas Antanavicius, Pwresident of the Lithuanian Community of B.C. “We estimate that there are between 100 and 200 persons who attend one or more events of our community per year.”

Holiday events of importance to Lithuanian-Canadians include the celebration of Lithuania’s independence, the European Festival and Saint Jonas Day. In addition to events, the organization holds a Saturday school, Little Owls’ Club, to help teach the younger generation Lithuanian, one of only two living Baltic languages. The Saturday group also explores some of Lithuania’s culture and heritage through poetry and songs at its biweekly meetings.

A look back

B.C. gained its largest portion of Lithuanians after the Second World War as they fled what would become a Soviet Union country, and according to the 2011 National Household Survey done by Statistics Canada, there were approximately 49,130 Canadians of Lithuanian origin.

Antanavicius and vice president Birute Macijauskas say they notice two to four families arriving in Vancouver each year.

“We also see some students who come to study at UBC and other universities and some young persons who come on one-year working visas,” Antanavicius says.

Antanavicius and Macijauskas tell of the origins of the Community, with the first formal society forming in the 1950s, during which time the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States.

“These immigrants came from all social classes, from the professionally educated to those with little formal education. In Vancouver, because the community was so small, class distinctions were less pronounced and because as so often happened, many professionals were unable to practice in Canada and took less skilled jobs. Community cooperation and economic survival were primary goals,” says Antavictus.

After this initial influx of immigrants fleeing the new Soviet Union, there wasn’t much movement again until after Lithuania gained its independence in the spring of 1990. A small number of Lithuanians came to Vancouver from Toronto and Montreal in the late 80s and 90s.

“The Community was most vibrant from the mid 50s to the mid 70s when the immigrant parents were passing down cultural traditions to their children,” Antavictus says.

Few immigrant children stayed in the Lithuanian community, and by the 1980s the community was mostly comprised of the original WWII immigrants.

Harvest festival

Now, Antavictus and Macijauskas feel the community has the task of inspiring the next generation of Lithuanian descendants and encouraging new immigrants to get involved in the community. Non-Lithuanians are always welcome to learn more by attending open events like the Harvest Festival.

The Lithuanian Community of B.C.’s annual Harvest Festival will take place at St. Peter’s Estonian Lutheran Church on Oct. 22. Highlights include kugelis, a baked potato casserole-like dish, contests and singing Lithuanian songs.

“Cooking and serving traditional food at community events keeps a basic culinary tradition alive. Food connects everyone and ties together past and present,” Antanavicius points out.

The Harvest festivities include games and children are invited to make fruit and vegetable figurines. The event is open to all demographics and will help promote Lithuanian culture.

For more information, please visit www.lithuaniansofbc.com.

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