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Vampire-free zone: Garlic lovers converge on downtown Sunday

Canadian Garlic Festival is in its 25th year

With its strong taste and rep for giving people bad breath, many claim they don't like garlic. But those people are usually unwitting garlic lovers, said Canadian Garlic Festival organizer Sandra Sharko.

“I say 'Do you eat Ceasar salad?'” she said. “They say 'Oh I love Ceasar salad.' I say 'Well, did you realize there's garlic in that Caesar salad?'”

Sharko said she uses garlic to flavour her recipes instead of salt to make them healthier. Her late husband Mike even put garlic on his porridge.

Apparently, Sharko is far from the city's only garlic lover. The Canadian Garlic Festival, set for Aug. 28, is in its 25th year, and always attracts a huge crowd to Hnatyshyn Park outside the Ukrainian Seniors Centre downtown, across from the Rainbow Centre Mall.

“In 1991, it started as as a simple little potluck dinner for our residents. Everybody brought a little garlic dish. There were 40 people here,” said Linda Russell, who's also on the organizing committee for the festival, put on by the Ukrainian Seniors Centre.

“It's blossomed into the event it is today. On a nice, beautiful, sunny day, which we're praying for, 3,000 to 5,000 people will be converged on this corner.”

Volunteers have been working for weeks to prepare the food. 

That includes perogies and cabbage rolls — they made 600 dozen of each — 15 different garlic-infused nibbler items and even garlic ice cream, fudge and chocolate chip cookies.

Make sure you get there early, though. Because the food is homemade, garlic-lovers often show up with coolers and buy nibblers by the tray-full.

The festival also includes vendors selling Ontario-grown garlic and garlic products, and ethnic dancers, including the Veselka School of Ukranian Dance and St. Mary's School of Ukranian Dance Nasha Rodyna.

The Toronto-based Ukranian folk musical group, Zubrivka, will also be performing. There'll also be children's activities, including inflatables, crafts and face-painting.

Doors to the event open at 10 a.m., the food goes on sale at 11 a.m., and entertainment starts at noon. 

The festival wraps up at around 4 p.m. Admission is $2. Kids under the age of 12 get in for free. Organizers ask people to leave their pets at home.