Thousands of Vincentians from all walks of life on Saturday converged on Brown’s Bay Park in Western Ontario, Canada for the annual Vincy Unity Picnic.
Organizers said about 20,000 nationals from major North American cities trekked to the picturesque site, bordering the St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Is. area, for the extravaganza.
In almost picture perfect weather — temperatures in the 70s — nationals displayed a cornucopia of colors, gyrated to pulsating Vincentian and Caribbean music, and feasted on a potpourri of national delicacies, washing them down with local drinks, such as sorrel, ginger beer and mauby.
Vincentians, their friends and supporters came on the annual pilgrimage from major North American cities, such as Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Boston and Washington, D.C.
They proclaimed, in interviews with Caribbean Life, that the get-together is a must!
“I love it, it’s great,” said Cassandra Gonsalves-Thompson, a banker in Toronto, sitting on a large blanket under a tree. “They (organizers) picked the perfect location.
“You have folks from Montreal, Toronto and the [United] States — all over the place,” added Gonsalves-Thompson, enjoying her third picnic. “This is great. You get to meet the people you grew up with. It’s good to reconnect, and it’s a good reminder of how you grew up. Vincy spirit alive!”
Gonsalves-Thompson’s friends, Carol Hendrickson and her daughter, Leanna Estwick, along with Hendrickson’s parents, Charles and Pauline Hendrickson, joined her at the picnic.
“It’s a lovely day out — to see old friends and family,” said Carol, who was born in London and recently migrated to Toronto, as Leanna, enjoying her first Unity Picnic, turned chicken legs and thighs on a small gas grill.
“I love the family aspect of it – the food, the music,” added Carol, later putting corn on the grill. “It’s worth the drive [three hours by car from Toronto].”
“Very nice!” intoned her Barbadian-born mother, who met Carol’s Vincentian-born father in London before the couple decided to retire in Layou, Mr. Hendrickson’s place of birth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “Plenty of people to chat to. I’m enjoying the music; lovely atmosphere.”
Brooklyn resident Nolene King brought along her elder sister, Ester, and Trinidadian friend, Marilyn Sampson, during the 10-hour bus trip, organized by the Brooklyn-based Vincentian umbrella group in the U.S., Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A. Inc. (COSAGO).
“I really like it,” said King, purchasing Vincy memorabilia at a tent with a plethora of Caribbean merchandise, as a DJ nearby struck up Kevin Lyttle’s “Coming Home for Carnival.” “Meeting people, family and friends is great.”
Sampson agreed: “I’m meeting people and enjoying some of the good food.”
Further away and closer to the water’s edge at the expansive park, COSAGO set up tents, with busloads of supporters volunteering to prepare meals.
“I like it — a lot of unity and togetherness, and you get to meet people,” said Brooklyn resident Kimberly David, as she prepared vegetables with Celloy Williams. “Everybody works together.”
“It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with Vincentians in the Diaspora,” said Williams, also a Brooklyn resident, enjoying her fourth Unity Picnic. “You meet new people, make new friends.”
Queens resident Ruth Browne-King said the picnic served as “a great get-away time for me.” “Whatever thing they’re [organizers] doing here, they’re doing a great job in getting people together,” said Browne-King, grinding garlic and preparing chive.
As she turned breadfruit, roasting on charcoal, lawyer Curlina Edwards, part of the COSAGO organizing committee and co-captain on one of four buses from Brooklyn, said she did not mind getting her fingers dirty.
“I’m a country woman,” Edwards said. “I enjoy serving my people. I don’t mind roasting breadfruit, doing food preparation and doing what’s necessary.”
While peeling mangoes, Joanne DeShong expressed amazement about COSAGO’s organizational skills.
“They’re my favorite organization,” said the registered nurse, attending her fourth picnic. “They seem to inspire people to contribute for Vincy [the Vincentian community]; that’s very good.”
Nearby, Arlette Dopwell-James, former president of the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Pennsylvania [SVGOP], attended the picnic for the fifth year.
“I’ve enjoyed this picnic from Day One – just how people work together,” said Dopwell-James, who trekked from Philadelphia, courtesy driver James Cordice, also a former SVGOP president and architect behind the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the prestigious Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“One day, I’ll like to take a week off [from work] and go down [to New York], and help them [COSAGO] prepare [for the picnic],” she added.
COSAGO President Laverne McDowald-Thompson, said the group’s work “exemplifies the capabilities of the Council in bringing our people together.
“One of our aims is to continue to foster a relationship with the Vincentian community,” said the former elementary school teacher at home. “So, I’m very pleased and grateful for the people who support this event.
“Over the years, people have formed great relationships from these trips, keeping them together,” McDowald-Thompson continued. “And more and more, I’m seeing the support to the Vincentian community from our people.”
Erline Granderson and Cornetta Mason, members of the Unity Picnic organizing committee from Toronto, said the picnic has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.
“It’s always a pleasure seeing your compatriots in one place,” said Granderson, who sold 20 tickets to bus travelers from Toronto.
“This organization has done a fabulous job in pulling this off,” added Mason, who, with Granderson, also plans to attend the Vincy Unity Picnic in Long Island on Aug. 20.
“It [picnic] helps to bring Vincentians across North American together and to remember the culture back home,” Mason continued.
Alfred “Jack” Dear, an ex-Customs Officer at home, who heads the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal and who helped to organize four busloads of nationals from Montreal to the Unity Picnic in Ontario, said he was grateful to COSAGO and all nationals who went beyond the call of duty to make the picnic an overwhelming success.
“I feel we’ve come a long way,” he said. “It’s past the embryonic stage.
“The picnic is very big, but we still want more,” he, however, added.