Celebrating 55 years of carnival in Toronto

After two years of cancellations and lockdowns of North America’s largest Caribbean festival, Toronto Caribbean Carnival is back On de Road Again celebrating the gift of culture given to Canada by the Caribbean community during the country’s centennial celebration in 1967. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Whine it up! — and giving …

A man and a woman, "the faces of this year's festival," wearing colourful headdresses jewellery and very little clothing
Celena Seusahai and Cleon Wong. Photo: C. Bird

Earlier this summer the Toronto Caribbean Carnival hosted a media event at Hotel X, at Exhibition Place, the site of the all-new Grand Parade Central. The televised event was hosted by CTV News anchors Nathan Downer and Jessica Smith, who along with Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and Toronto Caribbean Carnival executives, gave us an overview of what festivalgoers can expect this year.  

Celena Seusahai and Cleon Wong were announced as the 2022 “Faces of the Festival.” The two will serve as brand ambassadors, working with organizers to engage the community and promote the festival. Laverne Garcia, Executive Chair of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival Board, provided introductory remarks, followed by a colorful showcase of costumes by four Mas Bands – SugaCayne, Freedom Mas Band, Fantazia Carnival, and Atlantic Mas. Festival Manager Mischka Crichton provided details on the 2022 festival lineup for the four-week long festival of Caribbean music, cuisine, art and culture leading up to the big finale with the Grand Parade on Emancipation Day weekend. 

The festival first began with enslaved Africans in the Caribbean who celebrated their freedom by dressing in colourful clothing and masks. As people migrated to Canada, they brough those traditions with them. 

Black people of African descent have turned those traditions here in Toronto, into an event where people from all around the world come to see the wonderful beauty, the pageantry and creativity that goes into the festival. All those costumes take imagination to create, Deputy Mayor Thompson told the crowd of reporters.

People may think that carnival is about the visuals. “They see scantily clad women and beautiful women on the streets, and they think it’s about that. But it’s actually more than that. It’s about our celebration. It’s about us unshackling ourselves from the vestiges of slavery,” which people celebrated as part of emancipation.  

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival Grand Parade takes place on Emancipation Day weekend. Emancipation Day commemorates the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which did not take effect until August 1, 1834. Recently emancipated people of African descent in the Caribbean organized themselves in bands and portrayed masquerade characters in celebration of their freedom.

Deputy Mayor Thompson thinks we should always remember the purpose of this celebration. It’s about our freedom. It’s about our development. It’s about our enhancement. It’s about our growth. It’s about our contribution to this great city. The Caribbean Carnival offers so much to so many, he said.  It links. It connects. It inspires. It creates hope. It creates a vision for the future, so we can always remember where we come from.

Festival season began with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s official launch on July 7 at Toronto’s Nathan Phillip Square with thousands of people in attendance to enjoy live entertainment, costumes, special guest appearances, Caribbean food, and a lineup of DJs. 

Kiddies for Mas was a brand new event introduced this year as a separate showcase specifically for children. The Junior King and Queen Showcase celebrated its third year staged at the new Scarborough Town Centre venue. The Junior Carnival started off at Malvern Park (Malvern Community Center) and made its way to Neilson Park on July 16 with about 2,000 masqueraders ranging in age from toddlers to sixteen years old. 

From June 27 to July 31, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival took over the Scarborough Town Centre – Centre Court with a showcase of vibrant Caribbean costumes displayed throughout the entire month of July leading up to the Grand Parade. Scarborough played an essential role as the city with the most participating Mas bands. 

Described as a living art form, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival showcases colorful, costumes and Caribbean performance art and entertainment where steel pan players beat out melodies amongst Mas Bands, calypso artists, stick fighters, and stilt walkers. 

The world-famous Grand Parade returns on July 30 from its limited version online to a real-life explosion of Caribbean music and cultural expression. Starting at Princes’ Boulevard, (12) Costume Bands will head through the Exhibition Grounds onto Lakeshore Blvd. This year, the Grand Parade route is five kilometres long with three special activation zones – Marilyn Bell Park, the Grand Parade Central, located at Hotel X, and Centennial Park. There will be VIP areas at Grand Parade Central for people with VIP passes to relax and watch the parade as well as relief facilities for everyone along the route.

Getting to the Grand Parade

There is no access to Lakeshore through Exhibition Grounds on the day of the parade. There is a GO Train that stops right at Exhibition Place, near the BMO Building. Streetcars that come from the subway: from Union Station, Spadina Station (walk or switch streetcars at Lakeshore), and Bathurst Station. There are also busses (that people usually don’t take). The Dufferin bus comes close to Dufferin Gates at the Ex. There is also the King streetcar that goes east and west to multiple subway lines.

GRAND PARADE: SATURDAY, JULY 30, 2022 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

EAST SIDE | ONTARIO PLACE
955 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON
Washrooms • Emergency Services   

WEST SIDE | MARILYN BELL PARK
1095 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON
Food • Washrooms • Emergency Services

Grand Parade Central
Exhibition Place Grounds
Zone Time: 8:00am – 8:00pm
Opening Ceremony Starts at 9:30am
Bleacher Seating, Live Entertainment, Caribbean Flavours, Beer Garden, and Artisan Marketplace! 
Ticket holders have access to the GP Family Zone. 

Grand Parade — Family Zone
Dufferin Gate / Centennial Park
Zone Time: 8:00am – 6:00pm

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Other events include:

  • OCPA Calypso Showcase – July 24, 2022
  • King & Queen Showcase – July 28, 2022
  • OSA Pan Alive – July 29, 2022
  • Grand Parade – July 30, 2022
  • Carnival Garden – July 31, 2022
  • Awards Gala – September 17, 2022

For more information on the 2022 calendar of events visit https://torontocarnival.ca/.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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