Canada and Korea celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations

Lauren Roulston • Jul 2, 2024

The National Orchestra of Korea performs at the NAC on Jun. 25, 2024 (Marilou Moles/20ys)



2024 has been designated ‘The Year of Cultural Exchanges’ between Canada and the Republic of Korea. The countries are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations.

Last week the National Orchestra of Korea performed at the NAC for the first official event marking the beginning of The Year of Cultural Exchanges.

The orchestra of around 50 musicians illuminated the stage with traditional Korean instruments that have been developed and preserved over a long history.

Zithers like the Gayageum, bamboo flutes, Haegeum and drums made for a range of experiences, slow and rhythmic, and bright and fast.

The percussionists are illuminated at the top, conductor Chae Chi-sung at the bottom right (Lauren Roulston/CHUO)

These performances were conducted by Chae Chi-sung, the artistic director of the National Orchestra of Korea. He guided the orchestra through music selections from both Canada and Korea, including performances from a master singer of pansori.

Pansori is known as Korean musical storytelling, typically performed by a singer and a drummer. The term comes from the Korean words pan, meaning a place where people gather, and sori meaning song.

Pansori tells these stories through song, dialogue, narration, and gestures with a fan in one hand. At the NAC Jang Seo-yoon performed ‘Song of gourd’ from Heungboga.

Heungboga is one of five surviving stories of the Korean pansori storytelling tradition, which originated in the seventeenth century in south-west Korea.

The story centres on the poor family of Heungbu, who tries to survive with kindness despite the harsh conditions of poverty. The good-hearted protagonist cares for a swallow’s broken leg, and is repaid by the creature with a gourd seed.

The gourd is planted, and yields fruit that contains treasure, rewarding the good-nature of the empathetic and impoverished family.

Jang Seo-yoon performs with the National Orchestra of Korea at the NAC (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO)

In this performance, Seo-yoon repeated a slow sawing motion with the fan in her hand as the family cuts open the gourd in the song.

The night also saw a performance from Quebec-based Soprano Carole Anna Roussel and uOttawa professor of violin Timothy Chooi. The performances were highly symbolic for Canadian and Korean cultures.

Last year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement, acknowledging the sixty years of diplomatic relations.

He writes the relationship between Canada and Korea is “Rooted in strong people-to-peple ties dating back to the late 19th century, our friendship was reinforced on the battlefield during the Korean War.”

The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Canada reinforces this notion.

Soprano Carole Anne Roussel performs on stage at the NAC (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO)

According to the embassy, Canada dispatched over 26,000 soldiers to serve in the Korean War, the third-largest contribution next to the U.S. and England.

The Prime Minister also notes that the relationship has grown closer, from the opening of embassies to the signing of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA).

This agreement was signed back in 2014, and was projected to boost Canada’s GDP by $1.7 billion and increase Canadian exports to Korea by over 30 per cent.

With around 240,000 people of Korean descent in Canada, the country is home to the fourth largest Korean diaspora in the world.

As these countries mark 2024 as the Year of Cultural Exchanges, they’re aiming to expand on exchanges between cultural heritage, sports and the arts.

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