The Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly and still commonly called Caribana, is a festival of Caribbean culture and traditions held each summer in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is a Caribbean Carnival event, that has been billed as North America's largest street festival, frequented by over 1.3 million visitors each year for the festival's final parade and an overall attendance of 2 million. The entire event, which is one of the first Caribbean Carnivals along with those in New York City, Notting Hill and Boston to be held outside of the Caribbean region, brings in over one million people to Toronto and over $400 million into Ontario's economy, annually.
|Legal status||Active, non-profit|
|Purpose||Celebration of Caribbean heritage|
|Headquarters||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Richard de Lima|
|Festival Management Committee|
|Affiliations||City of Toronto, Toronto Mas Bands Association , Ontario Steelpan Association|
The festival was introduced to Canada by immigrants from the Caribbean. It follows a Carnival format, particularly following the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, but also influenced by the street dancing and masquerading in costume found on every Caribbean island such as John Canoe in Jamaica, Crop Over in Barbados, and other similar festivals in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The Carnival participants say that this event is very important for preserving and expressing their Caribbean identity.
A commonality between these cultural events is a cultural legacy that is born out of slavery. Caribana also taps into the legacy of the Canadian Negro Women's Organization's pre-Lenten Calypso Carnival celebrations and the centuries-long Black Canadian tradition of Emancipation Day parades.
Celebrations such as Calypso Carnivals and the Emancipation parades made a lot of room for Caribbean to exist as such a large observance of black Canadian pride. Canada’s Carnival traditions owe a lot to Canadian Negro Women’s Association, or CANEWA, who were one of the first groups to make space for the commemoration of black history within Ontario. Although a majority of the members did not have Caribbean roots, from 1952-1964 CANEWA produced, funded, and hosted annual one-day celebrations of Caribbean culture through food, dance, and music called the Calypso Carnivals. These carnivals began as fundraisers for scholarships in order for black students to attend recently desegregated schools in southern Ontario. Emancipation Day Parades began to celebrate the liberation of slaves throughout the Americas and were largely observed around the same time as the Calypso Carnivals. The founders of this parade were largely decadents of fugitive slaves and other black American immigrants. The parades were marked as a black victory over the British and operated as a military-style event, displaying military regalia, marching bands, and drum corps. Emancipation Day Parades became the most notable displays by and for Black Canadians prior to Caribana.
Beginning in July, the multi-week festivities lead up to the parade which occurs over the long weekend in August which is also known as Emancipation Day, August 1, 1834, in Toronto and Simcoe Day in Ontario, in honour of John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada who is credited with signing "An Act to Prevent the Further Introduction of Slaves, and to Limit the Terms of Contracts for Servitude Within This Province" (1793).
Puff Daddy's performance in the festival in 1997 sparked a wave of criticism and protest, as "opinions lamenting the presence and dominance of urban music in general and rap in particular flooded talk radio programs and newspapers in the black community." Longtime Carnival purists mocked Puff Daddy’s performance as "culturally weak, capitalistic, and a 'flash in the pan.'” Many observers raised concerns regarding cultural retention and festival organizers' moral cultural responsibility.
Several events occur over the course of the festivities celebrating Caribbean culture. The main stakeholders of the events are the Toronto Mas' Bands Association, the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists, and the Ontario Steelpan Association.
While the Parade of Bands is the most-well known festivities, events include tastes of Caribbean life including exhibits, such as the first Caribana which displayed every book published by a Caribbean writer, including Austin Clarke who was the centrepiece of the exhibition; theatre plays, such as Austin Clarke's "Children of the Scheme", which dealt with the plight of Caribbean women who came to Canada on the domestic immigrant worker scheme; and fashion shows.
Parade of Bands
While the Caribbean Festival holds events over several weeks, the culmination of the Caribana event is the final weekend which is punctuated by the street Parade of Bands. This weekend traditionally coincides with the civic holiday in August. The street Parade of Bands consists of costumed dancers (called "Mas players") along with live Caribbean music being played from large speakers on the flat-bed of 18 wheeler trucks. Much of the music associated with the event, such as steel pan, soca and calypso, but you can also find floats which play chutney, dancehall and reggae.
Band leaders start preparation for the following year, the day after the parade ends. As of 2017, Whitfield Belasco has led a band since his brother recruited him from the Trinidad Carnival to help organize the first Caribana in 1967.
The bands are the most important part of the main Carnival parade. The bands are actually in competition with one another during the parade. They must pass a judging spot which will rate each band section for its costume design, the energy of masqueraders, the creativity of presentation and so on. Work on the costumes begin soon after the previous year's celebration and usually takes one full year to complete all of the costumes. Bands typically dances to calypso, soca, reggae, jazz, and dancehall. A King and Queen of the Band is also judged, and winning is considered claiming the biggest prize of the festival.
In the 1970s, the parade route originally followed Bloor and Yonge Streets ending at Toronto City Hall concluding with a concert at Nathan Phillips Square. In the 1980s, the parade ran along Bay and University Avenue. Since 1991, when the parade shifted to Lake Shore Boulevard into Exhibition Place, barricades were introduced to separate the spectators from those playing mas.
King and Queen Showcase
The night before the grande para, all the kings and queens (leaders) of the bands compete on stage to be named King and Queen of Carnival.
An event where the Calypso Monarch is crowned.
Junior Carnival Parade
The junior carnival (commonly known as Kiddie Carnival) has run since, at least, the 1990s and provides an opportunity for young masquerades to dance through the streets. Similar to the grand parade, the junior carnival consists of a series of bands with leaders who display costumes in competition.
In addition to the main parade, the Caribbean community also celebrates a smaller pre-dawn parade known as J'ouvert (Pronounced "Jou-vay"). This too has been modelled after and taken from Trinidad Carnival. In Caribbean French-creole this means "day open" or morning. The J'ouvert portion of Carnival is the more rhythmic part of the Carnival celebration and is usually featured with steelpan bands, and persons using improvised musical instruments. It is not usually accompanied by any singing but will have a lot of whistles and other music makers. Spectators and or persons "playing Mas" will occasionally get themselves covered from head-to-toe with mud, flour, baby powder, or different water-colored paints in the tradition of the Caribbean-based J'ouvert celebrations. In many instances, everyone in the band is supposed to resemble evil spirits while parading around at night. There are some common characters that are a part of Afro-Caribbean folklore and include things like Red Devils (people covered in red paints), Blue Devils (people covered in blue paints), Green devils, Black devils, Yellow devils, White devils, (usually people throwing baby powder or flour.) or people just covered in other concoctions which are supposed to resemble mud or oil.
Leading up to the main parade a number of Caribbean music artists perform in Toronto. These parties are generally called "fêtes", for a French-Creole Caribbean word meaning "festival", and usually start in June–July.
Picnics (Food Fest)
Originally taking place on the Toronto Islands, the island picnics now occur at Ontario Place. Picnics are two days of feasting on rotis, jerk chicken and festival, callaloo, goat head soup, potato pudding, pelau, fried fish, cow foot, rum cakes; drinking sorrell, Mauby, and ginger beer; and dancing to music.
Talk tents contain shows featuring storytellers, comedians and others well versed in oral traditions.
Gala (Carnival Ball)
The gala, debuted in 2008, is an evening of elegance celebrating Carnival music, arts, and the works of the pioneers of the Caribana festival.
Caribana has been run annually since 1967, first performed as a gift from Canada's Caribbean community, as a tribute to Canada's Centennial. Billing itself as a multicultural nation, the Canadian government invited ethno-cultural groups to contribute celebrations with representations of their ethnic diversity. The name Caribana was invented by the organizers to capture the notions of Canada, the Caribbean, bacchanal and merrymaking. Caribana emerged during a time when many Caribbean residents emigrated to Canada following immigration reform, internationally acclaimed singers, such as Harry Belafonte, was popularizing Caribbean music (in fact, Harry Belafonte sang to a sold out crowd at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto), Civil Rights Movement activities such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., visited Canadian audiences, and Muhammad Ali fought against the Canadian heavyweight champion George Chuvalo.
The main Caribana events were run by a nonprofit Toronto-based organization, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), its board members mostly made up of expatriate-Caribbean nationals living in Canada. Charles Roach and Julius Iaasc (the first Black judge of the Federal Court of Appeal) were among the community leaders who organized the first Caribana.
As the festival became a permanent annual event, the festival organization became dependent on borrowing money from the City of Toronto prior to the festival, to be repaid out of festival profits afterwards. By 1992, the festival had built up a significant debt to the City. To aid the festival, the City of Toronto forgave the outstanding debt after the 1992 event. The same year, Caribana developed a new partnership with Toronto-area hotels.
In 1993, the organization fired its operating chief. At launch in Nathan Phillips Square, Premier Bob Rae calls the event a "beacon of hope" for all Canadians, as a symbol of racial harmony. "Carry a Can to Caribana" launched, in support of Daily Bread Food Bank. Also in 1993, the Caribana Marketplace covered market was added at Marilyn Bell Park along the parade route. A well-behaved crowd and barricades along the entire parade route contributed to an incident-free parade. With attendance down, the board chair blamed the federal and provincial tourism ministries for not funding their American advertising campaign.
In September 2004, after the 37th festival, the consul general of Trinidad and Tobago pledged to work more closely with Caribbean Cultural Committee to get support for the carnival from the business community; the committee received around CA$1 million that year from the national, provincial, and city governments, but it cost about twice that to run the festival.
In 2006, the Caribbean Cultural Committee ran into financial troubles again. Because of a lack of financial accountability, the City of Toronto cut off funding until the organization could get its finances in order. Instead, the funding was given to the Toronto Mas Band Association which had organized the festival in 2002. Due to an ongoing dispute about the ownership of the trademark "Caribana", the 2006 festival was promoted as "the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana)".
In May 2010, the festival added a new initiative to involve post-secondary schools. The only college to participate was Centennial College School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture, where they created a costume theme of the Tropical Amazon. On September 1, 2010, new management took over the Festival Management Committee (FMC) and named Denise Herrera-Jackson as CEO/Chair of FMC and Chris Alexander as CAO.
A naming dispute arose over the use of "Caribana." The Caribbean Cultural Committee claimed that it legally held the trademark for "Caribana". In April 2010, a panel for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ruled that Scotiabank, as the sponsors of the Caribana festival, did not have grounds for being awarded the domain name caribana.com from its current owners the Working Word Co-operative.
In 2011, the Ontario Superior Court Of Justice ruled that the Caribana Arts Group (CAG), the successors of Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), has legal rights to the name Caribana. On May 25, 2011, the festival released its new logo and new name, "Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto". In October 2015, Scotiabank announced that it would end its sponsorship with Toronto's Caribbean Carnival parade after six years. The festival continued without a naming sponsor until 2017 when Peeks became the new title sponsor and the festival became the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival.
Incidents have sometimes occurred at the festival, though organizers have long disassociated themselves from the violence. Said Lennox Farrell in 1992: "We as a board abhor any kind of violence whatsoever. If violence occurs outside a Blue Jays game, it is not ever associated with the Blue Jays game. We wonder why in the mind of the press... that shooting has become associated with Caribana."
- 1971: A car accident caused parade route deaths and injuries, and public transit fumbles which led to fighting.
- 1993: On July 28, a 29-year-old jumped off a Caribana cruise boat at 11 pm, telling friends that he would meet them on shore at Ontario Place. The Trillium, the boat they were on, was about 300 feet (100 metres) from shore. Police recovered his body on the 30th. The victim's mother was hurt by speculation about his sobriety. Another man was stabbed in the finger. A barrier fell at one point, the crowd assisted in bringing them back up.
- 1996: August 3, 1996: Elrick Christian, 23, was shot and killed and three others, including a nurse visiting from Britain, were wounded during the Caribana parade. Three men were arrested on weapons-related charges after a volley of shots are fired in Marilyn Bell Park beside the parade route.
- 2011: A man died in a 2011 shooting, while the woman he was with suffered multiple gunshot wounds. putting her in critical condition. Another man was hospitalized after the bullet grazed his eyebrow.
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