Preparing your Teenager for Caribbean Carnival (in Toronto)

I love Carnival. I love Toronto. I love the combination of Carnival and Toronto, and always want what is best for our city, our Caribbean community, our participants, and our visitors.

Continuing to to stay connected to Toronto's carnival festivities over the years is very important to me. Along with my team of writers, we have planned Kya Publishing and Toronto Urban Book Expo book fairs/events and activities around Emancipation Day weekend in Toronto for years, in celebration of the culture and to draw alignment between our intentions as writers and larger cultural objectives.

A part of our business model is to encourage international visitors to come to Toronto, interact and integrate with our creative communities (the writers in particular), and to continue to build Toronto as a hub for Black artists and innovators. So far, I've met some incredible, brilliant Black people as a result of this alignment.

We live in a beautiful, world class city, and therefore we all need to actively maintain Toronto's standard to the best of our individual abilities. We are all responsible for how the future looks.

I first played mas in 2010 with Toronto Revellers, and had a blast. That inspired me to build mas for the first time in 2011 (for the Toronto Revellers, with a group of 3 others), and it was overwhelming and extremely fulfilling to see our 150 costumes on the road.

In 2014 I built a kiddies section for Toronto Revellers on my own (with the help of a designer, and seamstresses) and it was also a great experience to connect with the children in my section and their families.

These past two post-pandemic years, my main goal with 'Caribana' was to ensure that my teenage nieces (who modelled as little girls in costume) had their first experience on the "road' with me. I have been calling it my Carnival Orientation, and I have been taking it very seriously. 

The way you enter any cultural space--and your understanding of the overall structure and circumstances around you--will play an important role in how you perceive the event, how you approach the event, and how you sustain the event.

Documenting, sustaining, and building the culture means everything to me. And this is what I am hoping to teach my teenage nieces by example, and through references.

My girls' first experience with Toronto Carnival was in 2014, when they modelled for my kiddies section "YabbaDabbaDoo," with their Pebbles & Bam Bam-styled peers. They participated in the band launch, they posed for photographs, and they joined us on the road during Junior Carnival 2014 in Malvern for the parade.

Now that they are older, and almost ten years passed since they participated in carnival activities, they were ready to take on the adult parade and I was happy to escort them to the Lakeshore. I didn't force them along the way...they both naturally formed an interest in the activities taking place downtown.

There is no formal "orientation," or training for these shared experiences and cultural events. We all learn the ropes informally from our parents, our ancestors, from social media, and our friend groups.

Me writing this formal account of carnival preparation is to ensure that not only are these thoughts documented , but that they are accessible for anyone the event that they also want to approach their "teenager's first carnival" with a structured perspective. Or at least use these sentiments as a brainstorm or reference for their own teachings.

Here are a few fundamental thoughts I hoped to communicate this season:

01) RESPECT THE MAS | Admire the costumes, the designers, the parade, the procedures, and the security measures put in place to make Toronto Carnival a beautiful and orderly parade for experienced masqueraders and first-time participants. 

02) LEARN THE HISTORY | Research the various Caribbean Carnivals, and why we are celebrating emancipation in this way in Toronto, in the Caribbean, the UK, and so many other locations around the globe. Find out the origins of this celebration, the traditional processions, characters, and instruments, and the trends bringing us into future carnivals.

03) GET FAMILIAR WITH THE PARADE ROUTE | Get familiar with the parade route, the start and end points, and everything that happens in between. The fences, the entry ways, and how to access parking, public transportation, and the length of time it will take you to get from, say the Dufferin Gate to the Princess Gate. Traffic is hectic, on foot and in vehicles.

04) BE COMFORTABLE | Wear comfortable footwear that you can dance (and/or run if necessary) in throughout the day. You might even throw in an extra pair of socks, shoe liners, or other measures for extra comfort. Make sure you clothing is also comfortable because you're most likely going to be hot hot hot, and also have to navigate public restrooms in your selected outfit.

05) PROTECT YOUR SPACE | Be aware of unwanted following, contact, or pressure to participate in the levels of bacchanal taking place. In particular: watch out for older participants who are not paying attention to age when seeking a whine. Also, beware of stormers and unexpected rushes of people/stampedes!

06) PACK EMERGENCY ITEMS | Hand wipes/sanitizer, Tylenol, tissue, and walk with a water bottle and sunscreen if possible.

07) CHARGE YOUR PHONE | Phone signals are known to drop out when on the crowded Lakeshore Blvd, so ensure you not only enter the parade with a full battery, but that you have a charger...and even a portable charger on hand to ensure full communication access from the start of the day, until your long walk back out of the CNE grounds/area.

08) CHOOSE YOUR COMPANY WISELY | Go downtown with friends you know, trust, and who care about your well being. Friends that will stay connected to you, make sure you are safe, and who will do their best to make good decisions around you.

09) STAY ALERT | Try not to drink, smoke, or change your state of mind unless you are 100% familiar with the feelings and able to handle them in a loud, chaotic, and usually very hot/humid situation. Drinking at home/in a venue is a lot different than drinking outside in the heat...and smoking, well. I won't endorse smoking for teenagers, so that tip is to just not do it. And unless you're an 19-year-old teenager, you won't be drinking anyhow! So get some rest, and stay alert because there's a lot going on and you need to be in full control of your mind and body!

10) THE STREETS ARE WATCHING | Anything you do might appear on CP24, the Toronto Sun, or on a stranger's TikTok feed or Instagram reel. You never know who is watching, recording, or observing your behaviours. There are drones, cameras, and tourists everywhere that automatically assume you're part of the show, once you hit the parade route.

11) MONITOR YOUR ACTIONS | Don't do anything you don't want your neighbours, classmates, extended family, or coworkers to see or hear about. There are thousands of eyes everywhere, so be responsible and respectable in your behaviour. And if you want to wil' out, dance, and get on it in a way that you won't be embarrassed about in another month, year, or few...always think ahead!

12) HAVE FUN | Enjoy the music! Appreciate the vibes! Smile! Your energy feeds the next person around you, and vice versa. Help to make Toronto Carnival a pleasant experience for yourself, and for others.

Give thanks that Toronto truly embraces this festival, time and time again. Other North American cities do not compare to the way in which the City of Toronto coordinates the road closures, public transportation, and understands what it is that is happening. There are events, food, music, and festivities across the city and it's a magical time of year indeed.

I love Toronto Carnival so much, that I wanted to capture a single fictional experience in Toronto and put it into a written narrative. Carnival Spotlight is the name of my novel, written in 2014, about a young Jamaican woman/dancer and her first time taking part in the festivities.

I had fun writing it, and hope that you have fun reading it. I tried to capture the essence of the preparations, with a little bacchanal, and relationship drama surrounding the event. Here's a link to order it, if you want to take a read!

Also for your Carnival reference, here is a link to Kya Publishing's CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT archive of Caribbean-Carnival/Culture related articles, photos, videos, and communication activities that we've conducted and recorded over the years.

We also have an Instagram account dedicated to Caribbean Carnival and culture called @CarnivalSpotlight that I invite you to connect with!

Little by little, we all do our part to keep our beautiful traditions and future cultural presentations alive and thriving!

Thanks for reading :)

Written by SM Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Reflection & Reason" blog.


Popular posts from this blog

Why I'm Willing to Forgive Kevin Hart...

Kevin Hart & The Wayans Bringing Funny Back to Television

Movie Review: Annie (2014) aka "Black Annie"