In picture-perfect weather, thousands of Vincentians on Saturday converged on Brown’s Bay Park in the 1,000 Is. area in Western Ontario, Canada, for the annual Vincy Unity Picnic.
Nationals from all walks of life – and from throughout North America and other places – assembled at the picturesque park, bordering the St. Lawrence River, in perfect weather for picnicking. Temperatures hovered in the 80s, with a gentle breeze.
As usual, the event – organized by Vincentian associations in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto – also attracted a large number of nationals from the Caribbean Diaspora.
Picnic-goers intermingled and renewed acquaintances, while feasting on local delicacies, and gyrated to the latest soca and reggae sounds emanating from mini and huge boom boxes across the massive park.
“It’s nice,” said Montreal resident Randolph Warren, flanked by family members, attending the picnic for the third time. “You have all Caribbean islands together.
“It’s a day that you get to meet people you have not seen in years,” he added.
As members of the three-bus contingent from Brooklyn – organized by the Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A. Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the US – Curlina Edwards, Arlene DeRoche and Janice Phillips washed and sliced onions for a huge pot of rice and peas to be cooked on coals inside a tire rim.
“I feel good doing this; I’m happy doing this,” said DeRoche, a Canoun native.
“I’m always happy to help,” chimed in Edwards, a Brooklyn-based lawyer, whose parents hail from Chateaubelair and Spring Village in North Leeward, St. Vincent and the Grenadiens. “I love the togetherness.”
“The first time I came, it rained so much, but this time is good,” added Janice Phillips, who trekked from Atlanta, Ga, attending the picnic for the second time.
Sitting around a table with her Jamaican friend and church sister, Debra Conliffe, feasted on roasted breadfruit, stewed chicken, pigtail, BBQ chicken and cow-foot souse – all at the same time.
“I feel good,” said the Montreal resident between bites. “I don’t care; I come here every year since I migrated in ’79.
“I come here to enjoy myself – that’s it,” Conliffe added. “One life to live!”
Her friend, Jasmine Sewell, originally from St. Catherine, Jamaica, said she has been attending the picnic for the past six years.
“I always enjoy myself,” she said. “Very good food and good everything.
Nearby, Natasha Denbow, formerly of Lowmans Hill, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and her Trinidadian husband, Eugene Denbow, roasted breadfruit on a small propane stove.
“It’s a good outing,” said the Toronto residents. “We get to see lots of friends we have not seen in a while. We’re enjoying the family unity.”
A few yards away, Joel Toney, flanked by family members from Toronto and Brooklyn, drank callaloo soup, ginger beer and mauby.
The retired, former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ambassador to the United Nations, who came on one of the COSAGO buses from Brooklyn, noted that the Vincy Unity Picnic “has grown exponentially.
“It should continue,” said Toney, who took the bus ride for the third time. “It’s a good way to meet Vincentians in the Diaspora. This is an institution that should carry on.”
At the center of the park, gospel, soca and reggae artistes entertained the massive crowd, as politicians, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism, Culture and Sports Minister Cecil “Ces’ McKie, gave speeches.
The “Rolls Royce of Calypso,” Winston Soso, brought the party down with a number of hits from yesteryear, but Ragga Soca and Road March Monarch for Vincy Mas 2018, Fimba, had the crowd jumping to “Mind Yo Funky Business.”
Earlier, Bridget Blucher, dubbed “the Queen of Gospel Music in St. Vincent and the Grenadines” by Master of Ceremonies E. Bernard John, a former radio broadcaster and manager at home, transfixed the crowd with, among others, “Rivers of Babylon,” “Salvation,” “Can’t Sit Down,” “God’s not Dead,” and “I’m Saved.”
McKie lauded the organizers for the annual pilgrimage.
“Put your hands together for the organizers of this picnic,” he urged, getting immediate compliance. “You are the trendsetters. We now have picnics – one in New York and one in Florida.
“You have added to the flights and made carnival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a success,” he added. “You have to continue to add to the numbers. Last year, we had a record tourism season.”
As calypsonian Cyril “Scorcher” Thomas, a former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Deputy Consul General in New York, entertained the COSAGO crowd on the western end of the grounds, Montreal resident Earl “Ole George” Daniel, a newspaper columnist and “walker,” commended the “lovely weather” and picnic-goers.
“The mood is perfect,” he said, accompanied by his wife, Gwenneth. “People seem to be really having a blast. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”