Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Musicians sing city's praises

Greek immigrants now call Winnipeg home

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With Greece's economy looking hopeless, they gambled established careers, a Mercedes and a villa near the sea for an apartment, entry-level jobs and hope in Winnipeg during its worst winter since 1898.

Ten months later, they feel like they've hit the jackpot.

"It's like a dream," said former Athens Symphony cellist Stefanos Boukis. He and his wife Lia Andronikou say their wishes -- creating a music school, growing their family and owning a home in a stable country -- have come true.

"I don't believe it," marvelled Boukis.

In April, the couple started the Orfeas Music Conservatory at the Manitoba Hellenic Cultural Centre.

In June, they bought a house on Valour Road. Boukis gets emotional when he thinks about the sacrifice of the three First World War soldiers for whom their street is named. He performed 18 months of compulsory military service in Greece and says he's so grateful to Canada, he would be happy to serve his new country if asked.

In November, they're expecting a second child -- a son they're planning to name Orfeas after the Greek god of music and their music school. Their daughter Danae, who is about to turn two, stops fussing as soon as her dad plays the cello.

The musical family is part of the biggest influx of Greeks to Winnipeg since the late 1960s and Greece's last major economic slump. Until now, Greek communities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have been more attractive than Winnipeg to Greek immigrants. Of the nearly 350,000 Canadians who claim Greek ethnicity, census figures show only 5,500 live in Manitoba. That number has been rising steadily in the last year

At a job fair in Athens in June 2013, the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP) team interviewed 79 candidates and invited 53 to apply to the program, the province said in an email. The nominee program also supports exploratory visits by Greek and Cypriot nationals to Manitoba organized by the Hellenic Immigration Committee Initiative. Since 2013, 25 families have visited Manitoba, of those 16 are now living and working in Manitoba. As a result of the two initiatives, the Greek community has welcomed 29 families -- about 55 individuals in total -- to Winnipeg so far, the province said.

Boukis, who cherishes an English-Greek dictionary that belonged to his great-great grandfather, who emigrated to the U.S., convinced his wife they should leave Greece for Canada even though their lives were OK at the time.

"We both had good jobs and good salaries," said Andronikou. "He said 'Let's move out now -- leave before the shipwreck and not wait for it to happen.' "

Their timing was right. Austerity measures since they left have made the Greek economy worse.

Boukis, who landed in Winnipeg in September with his wife and daughter ahead of the container carrying his 184-year-old cello, began driving a truck. Now he's running his own music conservatory, teaching and performing.

Andronikou, who has a PhD in psychotherapy and worked as an English trainer in Athens, taught music to toddlers. She was hired as the administrator at the Manitoba Hellenic Cultural Centre.

"I'm the first administrator to speak Greek," said Andronikou. Her family was among the first in the latest wave of Greek immigrants to arrive in Manitoba. The timing of her hiring couldn't be better for those who've just arrived in Winnipeg from Greece and are still learning their way around the immigration system and getting used to speaking English, she said.

Andronikou, who plays piano, said she and Boukis organize concerts such as the Greek Independence Day Gala in March. She, her husband and singer Penny Calas have formed a trio.

They're performing at the Greek pavilion during Folklorama and look forward to making more friends, said Boukis, who knows all their neighbours' first names on Valour Road.

"This country is now our country."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2014 B1


Updated on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 7:19 AM CDT: Adds video, replaces photo

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