OPINION: Tamil Fest keeps exceeding expectations with the strength of Tamil culture and cuisine
Perhaps the surest indication, at least for the Tamil community in Greater Toronto, that COVID is now hopefully behind us is the return of Tamil Fest, the very popular street festival organized by the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC).
Tamil Fest originated in 2015, inspired by the popular “Taste of Asia” street festival. The CTC, in tune with the community, concluded there was enough critical mass within the GTA to successfully stage a street festival that showcased the cuisine, the arts and the myriad business offerings of the GTA Tamil community.
The CTC and the City of Toronto estimated that attendance in 2015 would not exceed 20,000, and accordingly a relatively small space at the corner of Neilson Road and Morningside Avenue was allocated for Tamil Fest’s debut.
To everyone’s surprise, the actual attendance exceeded 150,000 and included not just members of the Tamil community, but all other communities that make Toronto and the GTA such a diverse and vibrant locality.
The city concluded that the numbers were a one-time phenomenon and Tamil Fest was staged at the same location in 2016. Attendance exceeded the previous year and persuaded the city to allocate to the festival the current venue on Markham Road, between Passmore and McNicoll, where the space was adequate for the ever-increasing and diverse crowds from 2017 to 2019, until the pandemic stopped all festivals.
The continuing popularity of the Tamil Fest, as evidenced by the numbers, is a testament to the numerical strength of the GTA Tamil community, but it’s also bolstered by many Tamils in the U.S., U.K. and Europe who schedule their summer vacation to coincide with Tamil Fest, allowing them an opportunity to not only meet other Tamils but enjoy their culture and cuisine in a festive environment, topped off each night with a musical show featuring both local and Tamil Nadu artists.
On a personal note, our daughter, who lives in the U.S., has faithfully attended Tamil Fest and is no doubt looking forward to this year’s event.
Many visitors have commented, “There’s nothing like spending a warm summer evening listening to a live performance of popular Tamil songs, pleasantly stuffed with your favourite Tamil foods, and best of all, attendance is free.”
From the outset in 2016, the CTC had the foresight to attract other communities by including “Diversity Hour,” where communities ranging from First Nations to the Caribbean islands showcased their music and arts. The resulting cross-cultural exchanges, particularly the Tamil cuisine — including the famous kothu roti — benefitted both sides.
The Tamil Fest did not limit itself to arts, entertainment and food. The Tamil Museum showcased the community’s journey to Canada and its fruitful progression in its adopted country that welcomed it with open arms.
In 2019, the boat in which a group of Tamil refugees were rescued off the coast of Newfoundland was exhibited and elicited much attention from all attendees.
This year’s Tamil Fest is scheduled for Aug. 27 and 28 — between Passmore and McNicoll, on Markham Road — and on behalf of the CTC, I extend my warm welcome to all and hope to see you there.
Ken Kandeepan is a member of the Canadian Tamil Congress advisory board.