The camaraderie, love, pride and unity were fully on display on Saturday, as thousands of Vincentians — and their Caribbean and North American friends and supporters — converged on the extensive Brown’s Bay Provincial Park in Western Ontario, Canada for the annual massive Vincy Unity Picnic.
The picnic, which can be described as an extravaganza, is considered among the largest gathering — if not the largest — of Vincentians in North America.
The spectacle — organized by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Associations of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto — has, over the years, attracted Vincentians from all walks of life along the shores of the majestic St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Is. Area.
A cornucopia of colors, a potpourri of Vincentian delicacies and the gyrating hips of nationals were exhibited during the day-long convulsion, which drew nationals from home, the Caribbean, as well as from major cities in North America, among other places.
“This is beautiful!” exclaimed Anthonette Jacobs, an Ottawa resident, as she busied herself renting tables to picnic-goers at the eastern section of the grounds, in a Caribbean Life interview.
“I’ve seen it [picnic] grown from a little group to almost 20, 000 people,” added Jacobs, who once sat on the picnic’s organizing committee. “We have so many people, and we’ve had no fights, no accidents.”
Jacobs’ cousin, Amelia Jacobs, who has been residing in Ottawa for the past 30 years, said she has been coming to the picnic for 20 of those years.
“It’s great,” she said. “It’s a great place to spend the day. It’s a great place for business, and it’s always peaceful.”
A few yards away, Brooklyn resident Claudia Solomon assisted her son, Sean Solomon, in selling chicken and chips, among other mouth-watering delicacies.
“I just came to support my son,” said Solomon, whose son owns the Nu Caribbean Restaurant in Ottawa. “I like it [picnic]. I like the association. You’ve got to support [the event].”
Chester Clarke said he attends the picnic annually, when he visits friends and relatives in Toronto.
“It’s beautiful, very good,” he said. “That’s why I come.” Nelson Wall spends time with Clarke on the Unity Picnic Day.
“I like it,” said Wall, who is also vacationing in Toronto. “I get to meet other Vincentian people.”
Jack Dear, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal, said his group brought three bus-loads of nationals to the picnic.
“It’s good,” he said about the event. “The enthusiasm is still there.”
As he roasted breadfruit on coal inside the rim of an auto tire, Desmond Hills said he loved the unity and camaraderie exhibited at the picnic.
“I’ve been here before, but it’s the first time I’m getting involved [in meal preparation],” said Hills, son of popular, Brooklyn-based gospel singer, Bardo Hills, who came from Brooklyn on one of three buses organized by the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the US. “It’s (picnic) good. I’ll help any time. I’ll do it again.”
Otis DeFreitas of Colonaire who lives in Delran, NJ, attended the Unity Picnic, for the second time.
“I love it,” he said. “I love the unity. I love that, when we move out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we’re still unified, even though we’re in different parts of the world.”
As she chops chicken legs for the BBQ grill, Brooklyn resident Rosita Providence said it was “a pleasure doing this to keep our community together.
“I’m also proud of being out here supporting the Vincentian Diaspora,” she said.
Patsy Phillips, who calls herself “Diva Pat,” attended the picnic, for the fifth time, with nationals from Pennsylvania.
“I always enjoy myself,” said Phillips, who travelled on a bus, organized by the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania, Inc. (SVGOP). “I’m proud of my home, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I’m having a great time,” added the SVGOP member. “This is fun.”
Dr. Clifford Young, a physician, took the COSAGO bus from Brooklyn, for the very first time, bringing along his Jamaican-born wife, Hilda, a registered nurse.
“This is very entertaining,” said Dr. Young, who owns Citi Medical Center of Canarsie (Brooklyn), while drinking callaloo soup. “As it stands, this is unity.
“This is a new experience for me,” he added. “You learn about the St. Lawrence River in the text books, and you’re now partying along the St. Lawrence River. It’s really an exhilarating experience. It reminds of me of when I was growing up – the firewood and all that. It’s really a good experience.”
“I will cherish this forever – for the rest of my life,” Hilda chimed in.
Anesta Delpesche, who works as a nurse in the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, also attended the picnic for the very first time.
“I’m seeing lots of Vincentians I’ve not seen in a very long time,” said Delpesche, who is vacating in Montreal and staying at her elder sister’s, Irene Delpesche. “I’m having a good time – enjoying Vincy Day and hoping to be back next year.”
Even as picnic-goers gyrated to soca vibes, emanating from boom boxes at several tents, most party lovers “went wild” before the main stage.
There, leading Vincentian soca artistes, fresh from Vincy Mas 2007 — such as Vincy 2017 Soca Monarch Delroy “Fireman,” Hooper, Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle, Rondy “Luta” McIntosh and Shaunelle McKenzie — kept the huge crowd in paroxysms.
Rodney “Vincy Freshie” Small also mesmerized on tenor pan.
But, despite the gaiety and penchant for unity, there were some concerns, primarily in political circles, that Opposition Leader Dr. Godwin Friday was not allowed to address the massive crowd from the central stage.
Friday, president of the main opposition New Democratic Party and the Northern Grenadines representative in Parliament, and was not listed, on the Unity Picnic Committee’s official program, to speak, but Minister of Health, Luke Browne, was allowed to do so.
Browne even posed, with others, for a Caribbean Life photo-op with honoree, lawyer Alwyn Child, whose contribution to the development of the Vincy Unity Picnic and Vincentian community in Canada, as a whole, is described as exemplary.
But Friday, who had studied and worked in Canada before returning home to practice law and get involved in politics, like Browne, moved around freely in the huge park, meeting and greeting his compatriots.
In what appeared to be a seeming truce, Friday also posed for Caribbean Life with die-hard, incumbent Unity Labor Party supporter and ex-school teacher, Almond “Rabbi, Prezzie” Thompson, nephew of former North Leeward Parliamentarian John Thompson and first cousin of John’s son, Dr. Jerrol Thompson, also an erstwhile North Leeward Parliamentarian. Almond Thompson’s wife, Laverne McDowald-Thompson, also a former school teacher at home, heads COSAGO.
However, despite the hiccup over Friday and other issues, most picnic-goers said it was a day well-spent and worth having.
“It was nice,” said Francis “Dotsie” Lewis, as she got ready, with others, to board the bus for an hour’s trek back to her hotel room in nearby, scenic Gananoque. “Although we had a few mishaps, everything went fine.”