It’s just after 7 p.m., and a group of Great-West Life co-workers is gathered for a surprise birthday party, eagerly awaiting the guest of honour's arrival.
The Filipino colleagues have organized a 50th birthday picnic for Gina Arroza, a.k.a. "ate" (pronounced "ah-tay"), a term of respect in their culture.
The Hawaiian-themed decorations are charmingly arranged as a mix of Filipino and American pop music wafts through the humid air.
"Food kind of brings all of us together because we talk about what we’re going to bring, we share recipes afterward…It’s the magnet for everyone to come together in one place.” –Gail Monzon
The buffet of food and drink — pancit (noodles), lumpia (spring rolls), inihaw na bangus (grilled milk fish), grilled pork belly and gulaman (a sweetened beverage commonly sold at roadside stalls in the Philippines) — has been lovingly prepared by the group of mostly women.
Gail Monzon, who arrived at the park about an hour before the surprise to help with the party setup, says she and her colleagues bonded at work through their shared love of food and culture from their homeland.
"We don’t like to starve," adds Antonia Guevarra, laughing. "Food kind of brings all of us together because we talk about what we’re going to bring, we share recipes afterward…
"It’s the magnet for everyone to come together in one place."
Arroza is surprised — really surprised — when she arrives to cheers, and is touched by the celebration in her honour.
After she's presented with a cake, the beaming birthday girl turns to a couple of uninvited witnesses and tells them to eat. And she won't take no for an answer.
"You’re our guests," she says, even though they crashed the party.
While there is good reason to celebrate on this day, Monzon says the group usually doesn't need one: "Sometimes we make up a celebration just so we can eat!"
— Stacey Thidrickson
Photography by Andrew Ryan