The Biggest North American Festival takes Toronto by Storm.

 

Every year the Caribbean Festival and masquerade comes to Toronto, and every year you can feel the excitement building in the air in the weeks leading up to it. There is a special kind of hyperactivity that is almost palpable,suddenly the city fills with foreign American cars with large shiny rims,and people get a little bit louder and more free-spirited.

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“The parade is the culmination of the three-weeks of events!”

Denise Herrera Jackson – CEO, Festival Management Committee of The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival and Festival.

“Caribana is my favorite summer festival in Toronto. It is a very fun and vibrant festival. If you enjoy Caribbean music and love dancing, it is the ultimate street party-where anyone can dance and have a good time for free!! All the masqueraders wear colorful hand made costumes- it is like a local version of the majestic Rio de Janeiro Carnival on the Toronto Lakeshore! There are also numerous food tents where you can enjoy mouthwatering Caribbean dishes such as jerk chicken, roti’s, curry goat dhollpuris, beef patties, fresh coconut water, rum cake and so on,” said Yovana Ramasawmy, who never misses the parade.

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She is right, the parade is truly a sight to behold and the costumes and floats are comparable to the ones you see on the streets of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. The Brazilian Carnival is probably the biggest annual parade in the world and the most colorful spectacle to behold.

During the festival you can find the most delicious ethnic food from local vendors who set up makeshift kiosks in the park along the parade route or sometimes just use a cooler, pulling out pre-made goodies and cold beverages.

Many Torontonians and a surprising number of American look forward to the event all year long.

The best part of the parade is that you can participate yourself. According to Yovana Ramasawmy, for about $200 you can purchase a hand-made costume about three months prior to the event, from one of the masquerade bands that walk the parade route every year. Just like in Rio de Janeiro, the costume is worn once then forever discarded, with new and unique costumes made in the coming years.

This year, there were a total of 10-thousand masqueraders. Nine masquerade bands were dressed in costumes, each with it’s own theme and colors.

“I had the chance to ‘play Mas’ in 2010 and 2012. I really enjoyed myself both times. I felt privileged and proud wearing the beautiful costumes. On that day I felt like a celebrity as people wanted to take pictures with me!! Dancing in the parade was of course fun! By the end of the day my feet were sore from all the dancing,” said Ramasawmy.

The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival or Caribana as it is commonly known on the streets of Toronto has its roots in the Caribbean community. It was first started in 1967, emulating a similar parade and festivities of Trinidad and Tobago. The parade takes over half the city every year in the first week of August.

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“This festival was a presented as a gift to the City of Toronto,” says CEO, Denise Jackson. “The community decided that using the model of the Carnival from Trinidad and Tobago would be an outstanding and memorable gift.” It consists of three artistic forms – Mas (masquerade), Pan (steel pan music) and Calypso (such as Soca music).

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The grand parade gets louder and more colorful every passing year, with one million in attendance this year. The Masquerade, even attracted celebrities like Machel Montano and many NBA players. They looked ecstatic as they danced to the beat of the drums on the parade route.

Many Caribbean artists from several islands also visit Toronto during the week leading up to the parade. You can feel the carefree island energy that they bring through their music and laidback attitude.

The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival is the biggest Carnival outside of Trinidad and Tobago. Beside Rio’s world famous Carnival, there are several other similar Carnivals around the globe.

Notting Hill Carnival in England is a well-known procession full of flamboyant headdresses and skimpy costumes. This year’s event, to no surprise, had to take place under the rain. The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit as the participants grabbed their umbrellas, some even taking see-through raincoats as they happily marched outside.

New York also holds an annual Labor Day Carnival, which also takes place in August. This year was the 47th annual West Indian American Day Carnival. The Miami Carnival is another Caribbean Carnival that takes place in early October.

As the Festival CEO Denise Jackson tells us that putting on an event like this is a lot of work that requires a lot of permits and agreements with various city officials it is a lot of work, but says that it is well worth the effort.

“The Carnival community is supported all over the world by people who attend a number of these Carnivals each year.  It is very admirable to see the passion and loyalty that the Carnival product generates in the people.”

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Article by: Anastasiya Jogal

Photography by:  Robert Harvey

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