Thousands of festivalgoers said food is the big draw to Ottawa’s Lebanese Festival, which opened its 22nd year Wednesday.

The grounds of the St. Elias Cathedral were filled with the smells of signature Lebanese fare as the five-day festival began.

“We’re a big fan of Lebanese food,” said Laurel Avenden. “We love falafel and hummus and tabouli and we thought we’d come out and learn more about the culture.”

“All kinds of nationalities are welcome to come to our festival and enjoy themselves,” said volunteer Nawal Ayoub. “We have all kinds of stuff, all kinds of homemade food prepared.”

Canadian R&B star Karl Wolf provided the entertainment for its first night, along with rides and traditional dancing.

“ I come here every year, this is probably my seventh,” he said. “I try to come here every summer and give back to the community; I’m Lebanese-Canadian myself so it’s always good to inspire these kids.”

Organizers said the event is also to celebrate Lebanon’s accomplishments.

“From the days of the civil war to where Lebanon is today, with the unrest in the Middle East, actually Lebanon is one of the countries where we have peace,” said festival chair George Hanna.

“It’s being rebuilt every day.”

"My husband is Lebanese, I'm Greek,” said Samantha Stergaros.

“I love the Greek festival (and) the Lebanese festival but my kids love coming, they see their friends and it's just a good atmosphere.”

The festival runs until Sunday and benefits local charities such as the Foundation to Fight Obesity in Children and the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Katie Griffin