Caribana 1976 (Toronto's Caribbean Carnival)

Photo by John Mahler, Toronto
Saturday, July 31. The day started with torrential downpour, while masqueraders and calypso bands gathered in preparation for the 10th annual Caribbean parade: the largest celebration of its kind in Canada. It was the summer of 1976, and many of the young West Indian revellers had only been living in Canada for a few years. This was a highlight in the community. A time of honouring their roots and performing their cultural traditions proudly on the streets of their new home: Toronto.

Photo by Jack Dobson
Caribana was, and remains, a special time for Toronto's Caribbean community because of the force with which the parade's participants declare their space. Originally intended as a gift to the city of Toronto on behalf of the West Indian community, the festivities have undergone numerous changes in management, in name, in route, in relevance, and in generational trend. But one thing that has yet to be altered is the spirit of the event.

Calypsonian Lord Kitchener
It is in great contrast to the modern day Toronto Caribbean Carnival in many ways, however, the essence of the parade remains the same: the smiles, the dancing, the use of costumes, and the importance of presentation. The film of Caribana 1976 posted at the bottom of this article was recently converted without audio, but has been edited to contain the year's Road March, declared at Trinidad's Carnival celebration earlier in 1976: "Flag Woman" by Lord Kitchener, in what would be his final Road March title. Following Lord Kitchener, are the sounds of Shadow, with "Bass Man," the Road March from 1974's Carnival. The voices of the calypsonians remind us of the true spirit of calypso and carnival, and shall serve as a reminder of the beautiful tradition of carnival and the Caribbean islands of its origin.

P. Mills McGibbon with D. Crombie
It was a significant year in Toronto, 1976. the beloved Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister, the Governor General was Jules Leger. Bill Davis was the Premier of Ontario, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario was Pauline Mills McGibbon. David Crombie was the Mayor of Toronto, and the city had proudly opened the CN Tower to the public: then the world's tallest freestanding structure at 1815 feet tall. This was the year the Toronto Blue Jays were created, and the first time the CRTC were given powers to regulate television and radio in Canada.

Parliament had voted to abolish the death penalty that year, Canada was hosting their inaugural Olympic games that summer in Montreal, and everyone's favourite morning snack--The Timbit--was first introduced to the world.

Richard Pryor
In the theatres, Rocky, Carrie, King Kong, Car Wash, and Freaky Friday were hits during 1976, and the popular game show Family Feud debuted for the first time on television, as well as The Muppet Show. Good Times and The Jeffersons were already hits, and cars like the Chevy Laguna, Pontiac Firebird, and Ford Mustang were popular on the roads.

The Manhattans
Playing on the radio, you could hear "Kiss and Say Goodbye" by The Manhattans during the summer of 1976, the #1 song on the Billboard charts in July, following a two month run from Diana Ross with "Love Hangover." Also a happening track that year: "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band.

P. Trudeau with F. Castro
Just south of Canada, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States of America in 1976, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed the Apple Computer Company that year. Nasa unveiled their first space shuttle, the Enterprise, and the Concorde aircraft entered service. In entertainment, the Seattle Seahawks played their first football game, and the NBA and the American Basketball Associated decided to merge as one. In Cuba, Fidel Castro came into power.

In Jamaica, the native land of the Caribana 1976 filmographer Earl W.L. Robinson, things were not so celebratory. In 1976 there was a National State of Emergency declared by Prime Minister Michael Manley, in the midst of great political turmoil, violence, and unrest. The Prime Minister feared the government would be overthrown, and thus the State of Emergency lasted for a full year. Tourism on the island was impacted, as many suspected that Jamaica was being "destabilized by foreign and domestic conspirators." It was arguably the worst crisis on the island in their 14 years of independence, and a matter of deep concern for those, like Robinson, who had recently emigrated to Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

"Smile Jamaica" concert 1976
As 1976 concluded, reggae artist Bob Marley was shot outside of his home on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica, which only intensified unsettled feelings amongst Jamaicans and reggae music lovers around the globe. In an effort to ease the tension of the country, Michael Manley curated the "Smile Jamaica" concert at the National Heroes Park where Marley performed, just days after the shooting. This is when the infamous handshake between People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) leaders took place on stage.

Trinidad 1976
Across the Caribbean, other islands were going through times of transition, establishing independence and building culture and enterprise in 1976. Those who remained in the West Indies were diligent and dedicated: those who ventured abroad to establish life in a foreign country were determined and tenacious. Away from home, the sunshine, and familial ties, the West Indians in Canada did all they could to feel at home. For the summer of 1976, this was perhaps the most nostalgic moment for all of them, parading down Lakeshore to the sounds of calypso and reggae, running into old classmates, and rejoicing with new comrades.

This footage, from the 1976 Caribana parade on University Avenue, was captured by Earl W.L. Robinson on 8mm film. In the ten minute clip, you can see the exuberance, the joy, the rhythm, and the inclusiveness of the Caribana parade as young West Indian immigrants and their friends party alongside their new Canadian peers and neighbours.

Here is a brief glimpse of that joyous moment in time, and a window into the Caribbean Canadian heritage, that remains an influential part of Toronto's annual summer celebrations:

(direct link:

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


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