Dignitaries who attended the Ohi Day commemoration included the Ambassador for Greece at ICAO, the Consul General in Montreal for Greece, a Quebec MNA, several city councillors from Montreal, Westmount and Laval and local Greek community representatives.
Hundreds of patriotic Greeks joined leaders from the Montreal Hellenic community along with elected officials from across the region for a ceremony on Oct. 25 at the Hellenic Community Centre marking the 75th anniversary of Ohi Day when Greece rejected its occupation by Axis forces during World War II.
Ohi Day is celebrated throughout Greece, Cyprus and Greek communities around the world each year to commemorate the refusal by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas of an ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on Oct. 28, 1940.
The ultimatum was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece. It demanded that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain strategic locations, or otherwise face war. The name for the day comes from Metaxas’ straightforward reply. “No,” he is reputed to have said curtly, following which he added, “then it is war.”
In response, Italian troops stationed in Albania, which was an Italian protectorate, attacked the Greek border, marking the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War II. On the morning of Oct. 28, Greeks took to the streets, irrespective of political affiliation, shouting “Ohi.” Since 1942, it has been a national celebration marked annually.
Dignitaries who attended this year’s event organized by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal included the Honourable Ekaterini Nassika, Ambassador for Greece at ICAO, the Consul General in Montreal for Greece Nikolaos Sigalas, Quebec Liberal MNA for Laurier-Dorion Gerry Sklavounos, Park Extension city councillor Mary Deros and local Greek community representatives.
Plaques of recognition for exceptional service to the Montreal Greek community were presented to the Very Reverend Father Nektarios Mostratos of Holy Cross Church in Laval for his 40 years service, as well as to Reverend Father Panayiotis Salatellis for his 45 years service, and to Peter Prassas from Montreal’s West Island in recognition of his 30 years of exceptional and devoted service to the citizens of Dollard-des-Ormeaux and to the HCGM.
Addressing the gathering, Consul General Sigalas delivered a message emphasizing the importance of unity in the Republic of Greece. Referring to the events of 1940, he said they established that Greeks are not only capable of fighting for a just cause, but that they can also be united despite their differences in opinion.
“Cohesion is very important for us right now in order to make the next step,” Sigalas said afterwards in an interview. HCGM president Nicholas Pagonis also delivered a speech. He said it remains the duty of Greeks everywhere to remember Ohi Day, including “the determination of good people to stand up for freedom with determination.”
Mary Deros, who represents an area of Montreal regarded by many as the heart of the region’s Greek community, said in an interview that Ohi Day “is a very important holiday commemorating something very special in Greek history when Greece didn’t give in to fascism and went to war and won.
“Recently I read something that has stayed with me,” she added. “A tree without roots cannot be a strong tree. Similarly, a community that has a history and commemorations to keep the history alive for all those who fought and died to keep their liberty and freedom is also a strong community.
“So every year, every time I come here and hear our General Consul and our president speak about our history,” said Deros, “I learn a little bit more and I get goosebumps because it is part of me and reminds me of how our forefathers fought for the freedom that Greece enjoys today.”