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Culture

Ioannis Focas (Juan de Fuca): The Long Voyage Back

May 6, 2018
Beverley Gerolymatos

VANCOUVER, CANADA – On April 24, Apostolos Focas Valerianos visited Vancouver for the second time. His first trip up the Pacific Coast was in 1592 – yes 1592. You may recognize his Spanish name that he went by in those days, Juan de Fuca.

The famous Greek navigator sailed for the Spanish King as a pilot, on a mission of discovery from Mexico up the coast to the farthest latitude that any other European had ever explored. The straits he discovered were named after him and since 1872, The Juan de Fuca straits have served as the regional International Boundary between the United States and Canada.

Now to focus on Ioannis Focas’ second voyage in 2018, where his bust sits in the main Gallery of the Vancouver Museum. The unveiling of Ioannis Bardis’ monument of the 16th century Greek explorer Focas was attended by a score of dignitaries, including Kefalonians from: Greece, New York, Ontario, and Vancouver.

The large room in the Vancouver Museum was filled to capacity to witness this historic and much anticipated unveiling presented by; The World Federation of Cephalonian and Ithacian Societies Odysseus, The Ionian Cultural Federation of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. It took 16 years of determination and collaboration on the part of these sons and daughters of Kefalonia to bring the story of Ioannis Focas to light.

The Emcee was Prof. Eirini Kotsovili from Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser, who flawlessly paced the event. The opening remarks given by Mauro Vescera, CEO of the Museum of Vancouver welcomed all the guests who had traveled from far and wide for the unveiling.

The first speaker Consul General of Greece to Vancouver, Thanos Ioannou, brought greetings from Greece and sets of commemorative stamps celebrating “Juan de Fuca – the First Greek Seafarer In SW Canada” were given to the dignitaries present. Consul General Ioannou went on to say that this statue of de Fuca has a twin overlooking the Argostoli Harbour in Kefalonia; which was unveiled last August. The same artist, Ioannis Bardis, created both pieces. The Consul General underlined the efforts of all the presenters who made this occasion possible including Mauro Vescera , the CEO of the Vancouver Museum. Special mention was given to the SNF Centre as well as to the writer and historian Evridiki Livada-Duca who gathered all the historical evidence needed to prove the identity of de Fuca. He also congratulated the sculptor Ioannis Bardis for his wonderful renditions of the explorer.

The next speaker, Peter Frangiskatos, Member of Parliament for Canada, brought greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and noted that he has come to speak because of “professional and personal obligations…I too am of Cephalonian heritage.” He went on to say that: “Canada welcomes diversity and that our identity relates to our existence. We can be Greek and Canadian too.”

Odysseus President Dionisios Vlachos took the podium next and began with the words: “This is an emotional event for us. We began working with Professor Andre Gerolymatos in 2002 when we sponsored archival research to Spain in search of Juan de Fuca’s identity. As president he pledged an annual scholarship of $3,000 for students participating in Simon Fraser University’s Archaeological excavation in Cephalonia, which will be named the Juan de Fuca Explorer Scholarship. The society also committed four $500 annual prizes to SFU students from the Seniors’ and Alumni programs who travel to Kefalonia.

The spirit of giving continued with Bill Matarangas, the President of the Hellenic American National Council who also spoke at the event and ledged another $2,000 annual Scholarship for students taking part in the Archaeology Program at Simon Fraser University.

Spyros Galiatsatos, Deputy Governor for Tourism of the Ionian islands, also thanked all those responsible for the event and applauded the works of the historian Evridiki Livada-Duca as well as the talent of the sculptor Bardis. He stated that Juan de Fuca was a man of courage. “He is a modern Odysseus.”

Odysseus Secretary Costas Vangelatos also spoke highly of the work done by Evridiki Livada-Duca whose historical research made the event possible. “The dominant feeling of the event is the justice given to the historical figure of Juan de Fuca.” Vangelatos mentioned those who helped him spearhead the project; in particular the work of Angeliki Hionis the vice-president of the Federation. Vangelatos gave heartfelt thanks to Bardis for capturing the Hellenic “psyche” in his depiction of Focas.

Prof. Gerolymatos, a TNH columnist, spoke just before the actual unveiling took place and he quoted from the famous Byzantinist Steven Runciman who said that the best place for history is in a department of literature. As such, Evridiki Livada-Duca’s work on de Fuca is in its rightful place. Gerolymatos concluded by congratulating Ioannis Bardis for his inspired work and for the commemorative sculptures he created for those responsible for the celebration.

Livada-Duca capped the evening with an extensive historical overview of her research on de Fuca. In her historical-biographical novel, The Straits of Chimera, she recognizes the explorer as: “one of the few Greeks who played an active role in the era of discoveries.”

Ioannis Focas’ monument is a testament to a great mariner who was brought back by his beloved countrymen and women, almost 500 years after his first expedition.

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