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Canada’s 150th – Greek Goddess of Olive Oil

Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday with heartwarming stories from our family of suppliers who chose to make Canada home.
By Marina Michaelides

Canada’s 150th – Greek Goddess of Olive Oil

Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday with heartwarming stories from our family of suppliers who chose to make Canada home.

By Marina Michaelides

Canada’s 150th – Greek Goddess of Olive Oil

Tales of Canadian settlement told through our family of suppliers.

Dimitri was a talented chef and good-looking Greek. Rosie, a teenage waitress. They fell in love at work in a Dawson Creek restaurant, at Mile Zero, on the Alaska Highway, 1980.   

Since then, Rosie Pafiolis has transformed into the goddess of Greek olive oil. Like the gods, she’s faced great tests, abundant love and deep tragedy in becoming the powerhouse behind Parthena, grower and importer of top quality extra virgin olive oil.

Papou Chris and Yiayia Filitsa.

Pafiolis Family in Greece. Dimitri sitting.

In the early years of their marriage, Rosie’s love for her husband grew into a passion for all things Greek, which deepened when the couple moved there with their six-month old son, Chris. Living on the farm overlooking the Mediterranean, “I felt blessed to be in the culture and the land of this laid-back paradise”, she remembers, “But I had to learn the language and Greek is not easy”. Her father in-law (after whom her first-born is named) helped in every way and soon become her beloved best friend, the most respected man in the small village Kavouri, in the western coast of the Peloponnese.

Dimitri Pafiolis jumped ship, arriving Vancouver 1969.

Dimitri with toddler son Chris in Greece on the farm.

Sadly, after two and a half years, Rosie and Dimitri made the heartbreaking decision to leave their close-knit family and the simple life to return to Canada to have their second child, Mike. Back in Dawson Creek, they started a restaurant where “We served Greek food and put on a Klondike-style show for tourists from all over the world at the start of their road trip to Alaska,” she explains.

Then life took a turn. Rosie was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1986. Amazingly, she managed to give birth to a healthy daughter, Filitsa (named for her grandma) in 1987. “My whole life changed, I had to focus on my health, but the children were my life’s thread and they gave me the strength to stay positive.”

As busy as the family was, dealing with Rosie’s illness, running three restaurants, taking care of the kids, everyone missed the family back in Greece terribly. So Rosie arranged the biggest surprise of her husband’s life–bringing his father and mother over to live with them in Canada for eight months. Papou (grandpa) Chris was 75 years old and had never left the village. He and Yiayia Filitsa (grandma) spoke no English. But they loved every single second of their stay and life in Canada. “Papou played with the kids, cherished them and taught me that grandchildren are the best diamonds in life. Now I have two of my own from Chris and all I want is more,” Rosie smiles.

Still in recovery herself, tragedy struck eight years later when Dimitri was also diagnosed with cancer. “It came fast and took him quickly,” Rosie remembers that fateful Christmas Day in 1995, but “He made me promise not to let the kids forget their heritage, their family and their roots”. Papou Chris also passed away the same year. Rosie was devastated.

Rosie & Chris with the family in Greece.

It was only when Rosie was well enough to keep her pledge to take the kids back to Greece years later in 2004, that she learned her father-in-law had left her the farm and olive orchards of 35 000 trees. She didn’t know a single thing about olives.

She could have taken the easy road and sold the olive harvest to a middle-man, but when Rosie brought the olive oil from the farm back to Canada, friends and family loved it.

35 000 trees on the Pafiolis Estate

Olive tree laden with fruit.

Olives are harvested by hand.

The distinctive bright green liquid made from the Koroneiki ‘Queen of olives’ was a massive hit and Parthena, meaning virgin, was born. Rosie would grow and bottle herself, specifically for the Canadian market.

Over the next few annual trips back with the kids, Rosie learned by trial, error and hard work how to produce top quality, unaltered oil. The first attempt was a disaster as the mill heated up the fruit, mashed them whole, pits and all, leaving a burnt bitter brew. After a long search she found a modern distillery that could extract from the first cold pressing. The olives are so delicate they must be hand-picked, pitted, then pulverized into a mush and squeezed at high pressure to extract the oil. No chemicals and no heat.

Harvested olives in the hopper cleans leaves & twigs

Next, a good wash

De-pitted & mushed to pulp

High pressure squeezes out extra virgin olive oil

Then came the challenge of getting the liquid gold to the consumer without exposing it to light and air. Rosie came up with the distinctive white stainless steel tin and son Chris, now in his early twenties, got to work on designing a logo, branding and packaging. And a new website. The final hurdle, all the regulations laid out by the Ministry of Agriculture in Greece and Canada’s Food Inspection Agency. Chemical analysis, certificates, permits and endless paperwork. A labour of love, not for the faint-hearted.

Rosie Pafiolis. We did it!

Parthena EVOO comes in 500 ml, 750 ml & 3L sizes

The first container shipped in January 2012 to the distribution hub and Rosie’s new home in Cochrane, Alberta. Ever since, she’s been on the road explaining to restaurants, retailers and at farmers markets that Parthena is one of a few top quality extra virgin oils that is not blended or refined. Simply pure.

As demand grew, Rosie took an even greater leap of faith in 2013 and created a co-op with 168 other farmers in the area to supply their harvest of the exact same olive for bottling under the Parthena brand. Forging these great relationships with a commitment to quality and sustainable agriculture is again down to her firebrand determination, and luckily, her ability to still speak good Greek.

All that toil and never giving up means Parthena is now available in speciality stores like the Italian Centre Shop from Vancouver to the East Coast. Ever-the-entrepreneur Rosie recently added wild oregano and sea salt to the lineup. Filitsa has now joined the family business running the office.

Maybe one day Rosie might sit back on the farm relaxing with a glass of Greece’s famous retsina wine. For now, though, she’s back every year to oversee the annual harvest and for a summer break with kids; faithfully keeping her promise to husband Dimitri to never let their children forget their heritage, their roots and their family.

Chris, Filitsa, Rosie, Mike Pafiolis

Chris Pafiolis, son Dimitri’s first birthday & daugther Nella

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