Korean Fest returns to Burnaby roots

The Korean Cultural Heritage Festival is coming home to Burnaby.

After 11 years in Coquitlam, the day-long event is returning on Aug. 16 to the city  where it had its start, at Swangard Stadium.

"Burnaby has been the heart of the Korean-Canadian community for such a long time," said festival spokesperson Mike Suk, who attended Gilpin elementary and graduated from Burnaby Central himself.

He noted that the Korean War memorial is located just outside the stadium at Central Park, making it a place of some symbolism for the community. The event will be held the day after the Korean Day of Independence, a national holiday in South Korea.

And seeing how Burnaby city hall has promoted itself in recent years as a hub for multicultural activities and festivals, the Korean festival's organizers thought their event would be a good fit, Suk said.

Especially when the organizers envisioned it as a celebration not only for Korean-Canadians but as a backdrop for people of all cultures to come together.

Historically, the local Korean community has "kept to themselves," Suk explained. It's hoped that by creating a fun atmosphere, they'll be able to better interact with people from other cultural groups and encourage good relationships between communities.

Suk noted that his father, Peter Suk, well known in the Korean arts community, has been brought on to chair the event. As a result, his contacts have helped create a world-class lineup of performers and martial arts demonstrations, from traditional music and dance, to K-Pop, tightrope walking and tae kwon do. Admission is free and there will also be extensive food offerings for sale.

Organizers hope to boost attendance to 50,000, up from the 12,000 of last year. It's doubled its budget to between $120,000 to $150,000.

That's also being helped by a $15,000 contribution from city hall's Festivals Burnaby grant program.

Suk said organizers were not aware of the program before it chose Burnaby as this year's festival site but has been grateful for the support it's received from city officials.

The grant program is funded with gaming revenues. Coun. Pietro Calendino, chair of the executive committee of council that oversees it, said the city doesn't really advertise it because it doesn't want events to come to Burnaby from elsewhere just for the grant money. "It's for local people."

But he's been pleased so far to see major festivals such as Eurofest, the Fiji Festival and Scandinavian Festival, attract thousands of people from all over the Lower Mainland. And he hopes the same will happen with the return of the Korean festival and bring an economic boost to the area's restaurants and the like.

"My goal is to make it big so people will know that Burnaby has festivals of all kinds of ethnic origins, sort of a world attraction," Calendino said.

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