'We are going to celebrate life': Taste of the Danforth marks 25th year in wake of deadly shooting

The Taste of the Danforth celebrates its 25th anniversary three weeks after a deadly mass shooting that claimed the lives of two people and wounded 13 others.

A moment of silence will be observed for victims Reese Fallon and Julianna Kozis Friday evening

Howard Lichtman, spokesperson for Taste of the Danforth in front of the memorial at Alexander the Great Parkette (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

More than a million and a half people are expected to attend a three-day festival celebrating the flavours of Greektown, where just weeks ago a deadly mass shooting unfolded that claimed two young lives.

Friday's opening ceremony of Toronto's annual Taste of the Danforth festival will recognise the heroic efforts of first responders and private citizens who came to the aid of 15 shooting victims, including 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis.

The two young people died in the July 22 shooting rampage after a lone gunman opened fire on the street.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also expected to appear at the opening ceremonies, and will deliver remarks around 8 p.m. at the main stage near Danforth and Logan avenues. 

Spontaneous memorials to be moved to one location

Organizer Howard Lichtman says the festival's 25th anniversary will feature more entertainment that ever before, and he expects a large turnout of people in support of the community.

"We think all of the GTA and beyond are going to be down here celebrating," Litchman said.
Businesses along Danforth are ready to welcome thousands of visitors for the annual Taste of the Danforth festival. This marks the 25th anniversary of the festival. (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

"We have a motto, we are going to be raising money for the victims with T-shirts and buttons [with] 'Danforth Strong and Toronto Strong Together.' We think everybody is going to be down here together with us showing how strong we are."

Spontaneous memorials that sprang up after the shooting, such as the one at Alexander the Great Parkette, will be moved to one location near St. Barnabas on the Danforth Anglican Church so that people attending the festival can visit and pay their respects.

Meanwhile, businesses along Danforth Avenue are ready to feed thousands of people.

"We are preparing a whole lot of everything. Chicken souvlaki, pork souvlaki and gyro sandwiches," are some of the items Voula Katsoulis said she will be selling outside her family restaurant Pan on the Danforth.

'We are Danforth Strong'

"We've got to show that we are Danforth Strong. It is going to bring more of a crowd out and we are all going to get through this together. We are going to celebrate life. Every day is a new day.".

Lichtman reminds people everything on the Taste of the Danforth menu is affordable: "We call it food, food and more food. No tasting menu is more than six dollars."

Voula Katsoulis, owner of Pan Restaurant is preparing souvlaki and gyros for the festival this weekend (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

The festival will feature three stages with live entertainment this year.

The Levendia X Greek dancers will be on the Greek Stage. But there will also be other cultural dances from around the world with teachers who will show festivalgoers their moves. Visitors can take 15-minute dance lessons from Bollywood, Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Egyptian, Japanese, Azerbaijani, and Afro Caribbean dance groups.

There is also a kids and sports zone, and an area where people can break plates in the Greek tradition, a practice that has been banned in Greece since 1969. Music will range from rock to soul.

Greek Dancers, Taste of the Danforth 2017 (tasteofthedanforth.com)

Sitting by the fountain at the Alexander the Great Parkette, local resident Peter Kitzos said, "If there is any year that there should be more people than others, it is this year. It's important for everyone to show that we are not going to be affected [by the shooting] we are not going to change what we do."

 Resident Ann Stoymenoff agrees.

"People will be here, I think they will come out and support the restaurants and the community like they always did," she said.

"We've all walked these streets, we've sat in these restaurants, we've had coffees here, brought our kids down here. It's not going to change."

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