Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Toronto Knows Carnival - The Launch of the 2019 Caribbean Carnival Festivities

Every summer, in the weeks leading up to the traditional Toronto Caribbean Carnival Grand Parade Day, the mayor, local dignitaries, festival organizers, costumed masqueraders, and community members gather at Nathan Phillips Square to officially welcome in the upcoming weeks of festivities that Toronto's Caribbean community and allies anticipate as a highlight of the season.

The Festival Management Committee, presented with an official proclamation from Toronto Mayor John Tory, launched this year's Toronto Carnival on Tuesday, July 9, providing context, praise, rules, and plenty of entertainment and Caribbean vibes for the hundreds gathered outside Toronto City Hall.

With news media lined up as early as 10:00am, and steel pans positioned on stage, it was a familiar sight. We do this every year, and still look forward to the moment when the festivities ramp up. This is the time of year when summer weather has settled in to stay, when folks are on summer vacation, when tourists walk the streets of our city with cameras in hand, you can find families perched on the ledges of the Toronto sign, and it's not uncommon to see men and women walking in feathers and beads. Anywhere.

Toronto knows Carnival.

I've travelled to other cities in the U.S. and abroad for Carnival, and know that we are fortunate to have a city that wholeheartedly embraces this annual tradition. To see our Mayor on stage, deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, along with MP Adam Vaughan, and a few others from the ranks of our city's leadership, sharing dance moves and laughs with the Festival Management Committee is something we can appreciate. Other places don't understand and welcome their Carnivals like Toronto does. Other politicians don't mingle and make appearances at soca fetes and all-inclusive parties like Adam Vaughan and Jagmeet Singh do. But this is Toronto. We all have an intrinsic appreciation for diversity here, and it is a blessing.

The Carnival changes every year. The route changes. Rules adjust, and new fees are implemented. There are definitely challenges, rivalries, differences in opinion and management, and other observations that come along with this event. We know this, we live this, and on some level we have come to expect this. Despite the ongoing difference in opinion that comes with an event of this size and magnitude, people still show up. They still purchase costumes. They still love the way the steelpan sounds echoing across Nathan Phillips Square, and they still smile when the politicians dip into Caribbean lingo and swagger.

Hosted by journalist Brandon Gonez from news channel CP24, the special guests each spoke about the carnival, covered some of the logistics, and expressed their support for the upcoming weeks. The "Faces of the Festival" Joel Davis and Nadelle Lewis were introduced, and Pan Fantasy steel pan band performed.

This year there are 9 competing bands, along with a group of guest bands, and steelpan bands that will be participating in the parade on Saturday, August 3. The route has been expanded to a 7 km path from the CNE grounds, down Lakeshore Boulevard to Parkside Drive, and then back up to the CNE where masqueraders and friends will continue the celebration at a few designated locations and organized events. Details are outlined on the Toronto Carnival website and social media pages.

It is the 52nd year of operation for the carnival formerly known as Caribana. It is another season in Toronto that for many, represents the highlight of their Canadian summer. It is a great way for businesses, the hospitality industry, event promoters, and other creatives to produce and profit. It is never without controversy, but it is family at this point. Something that many of us love because it's ours, and even on a small level, we are all somewhat responsible for its longevity, development, and reputation. It is an opportunity for the Caribbean community to acknowledge their food, music, rituals, and spirit on a large scale, and for that reason I will always support this event.





Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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