Caribbean carnival takes over Toronto

A Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival participant performs for judges in Toronto on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. Commonly called Caribana, the event culminated Saturday with its annual parade, with colorful costumes, upbeat music and dancing in the streets.
Asociated Press / The Canadian Press, Victor Biro

Soca music, gyration and colorful costumes took center stage last Saturday as Toronto’s Caribbean carnival took over the North American city.

The 48th annual grand parade, which had a “Carnival of the Americas” theme, saw participants wearing vibrant and colorful costumes, and dancing to soca, calypso and steel pan music, according to the Toronto Sun.

It said thousands of spectators danced and swayed as the parade made its way along the Toronto waterfront.

The grand parade, the marquee event of the Caribbean festival, drew hordes of masqueraders, revelers and spectators to the Exhibition grounds and along Lakeshore Blvd. on a sunny summer day made for an outdoor party, the Sun said.

In kicking off the event, Mayor John Tory said the parade was “another indication to the rest of the world of how we live together in this city.”

He then challenged national defense minister Jason Kenney to a mercifully short “dance-off” competition, where there was no clear winner.

“I love the experience, and I love how everybody here is like friends,” said masquerader Talia Chotoo, a member of the Louis Saldenah Mas-K club, taking part in the parade for the fourth time.

“We never miss it,” said Trinidadian, who migrated to Canada in 2003, participating in the parade with his wife, Carol. “We put aside CAN$5 or CAN $10 a week to save for our costumes.”

“I love the togetherness. We’re basically all from one island today,” added Angelique Nurse.

First-time attendee Eric Westwood, 25, said he enjoyed the carnival atmosphere, according to the Sun.

“My girlfriend is actually walking in the festival, she’s in masquerade,” he said. “It’s nice to be out with everybody.”

About 29 cultural and masquerade bands took part in the carnival, the Sun reported.

Denise Herrera-Jackson, chief executive officer of the Festival Management Committee (FMC) — the organization responsible for the Caribbean carnival, talked about the natural assets the area offers during her address before the ribbon-cutting ceremony to start the grand parade.

“We’ve got to give thanks that … we live in a great city such as Toronto,” she said.

Meantime, just before revelers prepared to converge on Saturday’s Caribbean carnival parade, the former event administration group called for more government funding and a change in how the spectacle is run.

The Caribana Arts Group on Friday denounced how the event has been administered since FMC took over, the Sun said.

“Since 2006 the FMC has received the funding that was allocated to Caribana and since then the festival has taken a downward spiral in cultural relevance, activities and economic activity,” said Knia Singh, the group’s chair, the statement.

“Each year, complications on the parade route, less mas bands and a lack of cultural unity have caused the authenticity of this mega festival to be lost,” added Singh, calling for the return of “municipal and provincial resources” to the group in order “to continue positive and necessary work in our community.”

But FMC spokesman Stephen Weir accused the group of being selective with its information.

“The reason the FMC was formed was simply because [stakeholders] wanted somebody who could produce a clean audit, pay the bills and run the parade,” Weir said.

Singh acknowledged audit issues in 2004 and 2005 but said that was the only time where there were such problems, according to the Sun.

However, Mayor John Tory, who was at a Caribbean carnival event at Toronto Police headquarters Friday, lauded the present-day festival.

“This baby is 48 years old, and it will soon be 50 …. I would hope that long before that we could have some of these issues ironed out,” he said. “This is something to celebrate, not to fight over.”

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