Belgian Ambassadors- Winnipeg’s Folkorama


In a previous post I mentioned having met some former students of mine at the Belgian Pavilion at Winnipeg’s Folkorama. I went back to the Pavilion the following Saturday to interview Lyndsay and Allison Kalyta and do a story about them for The Carillon, the Manitoba paper where I’ve had a weekly column for many years. Since The Carillon is not available online without a subscription and most of my blog readers are not Carillon readers I decided to include my newspaper story about Lyndsay and Allison here. 

“ It’s a family affair”, says Lyndsay Kalyta, “we’ve been here every summer since we were three or four years old.”   Two Steinbach sisters are the 2011 Belgian Pavilion ambassadors at Winnipeg’s Folkorama.  For Allison and Lyndsay Kalyta, the one hundred year old Belgian Club on Provencher Boulevard has been the site of an annual Folkorama family reunion for as long as they can remember. “Our mom’s family, the Spitaels, pretty much run the Belgian Pavilion and working here with our cousins and aunts and uncles is a tradition”. 

Their mother Elaine, a French teacher and reading specialist first got her daughters involved as members of the children’s dance troupe that performs for Folkorama guests. In the past, Lyndsay and Allison have served food, bartended, been in charge of hosting bus tours and have emceed the nightly performances at the Belgian Pavilion. This year they are serving as its official ambassadors. 

Their duties include greeting visitors, giving personal service to VIP guests, encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along with the performers, being introduced on stage each night, and representing their pavilion at official Folkorama events.  Lyndsay and Allison have never been to Belgium, but they studied and did research about the country to prepare for their job as ambassadors. Visitors ask them all kinds of questions about Belgium and its people.

The food and drink at the pavilion is what draws many people there, Belgian waffles, beer stew, leek soup, blood sausage, pickled herring, head cheese, Belgian chocolate and the fifteen kinds of Belgian- made beer. The pavilion is also famous for its French Fries served with mayonnaise. Many visitors don’t know French Fries were invented in Belgium. Lyndsay and Allison’s favorite dish is koninglinnepasteitjes, a pastry cup filled with creamed chicken. As ambassadors they get to sample foods from many other countries as well, because they have the privilege of visiting any Folkorama pavilion at no cost, where they receive VIP seating and complimentary food and beverage service. 

Lyndsay and Allison’s grandparents immigrated to Canada from Belgium as young newlyweds and made their home in Holland, Manitoba. There are two main Belgian cultural groups, the Walloon, who speak French, and the Flemish, whose language is more like Dutch. Lyndsay and Allison’s family is Flemish. Their grandfather died before they were born, but their grandma comes into Winnipeg during Folkorama to visit the Belgium pavilion and see her children and grandchildren.

Lyndsay is a 2006 Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) alumnus, who recently graduated from Red River Community College with a degree in Landscape Technology.  Prior to that she was pursuing an arts degree at the University of Manitoba, something she hopes to continue doing this fall, perhaps with an eye to a future career in nursing. Lyndsay has had a summer job as a gardener for the City of Winnipeg for several years.  She made a special request of her supervisor that she be assigned to tend the flower garden in the Provencher Boulevard median just outside the Belgian Club. It surrounds a memorial to the Canadian soldiers of Belgian descent who died serving their country in the first and second world wars. Lyndsay thought it would be fitting for someone whose family came from Belgium to care for that garden.

   Allison, a 2008 SRSS alumnus, just completed a science degree at the University of Manitoba. She will begin a two- year program in Dental Hygiene this fall. Allison has a summer job working for the City of Steinbach taking care of landscaping duties at the city cemeteries. She also works part time at Extra Foods in Steinbach. 

Allison and Lyndsay’s Dad, Phil Kalyta, is an engineer for the City of Steinbach and although he is of Ukrainian descent his daughters tell me they have their Dad volunteering at the Belgian Pavilion as well during Folkorama. Truly it’s a ‘family affair’!

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