The annual festival that attracts millions of people to frolic in the streets of Toronto in celebration of Caribbean arts and culture and a highlight of the summer; featuring elaborate costumes, Caribbean music, and food in the Grand Parade by the shores of Lake Ontario, has been thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an announcement on April 9, 2020, the Festival Management Committee of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) says that they have decided to play it safe amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19, and will be cancelling the month-long series of events planned for July and August. Events that are affected include the festival launch, the Junior King and Queen Show, the Junior Parade, the Adult King and Queen Show, Pan Alive, and the pièce de résistance, the Grand Parade itself.
After consulting with bandleaders in participating organizations such as the Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA), the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) and other partners and stakeholders of the festival, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival made a decision to cancel the festival for the first time in its 52-year history.
Massive crowds of millions of people gathering together for these events would present a tremendous health risk by creating the opportunity for COVID-19 to spread. Toronto Caribbean Carnival organizers say that, “It is therefore unanimous that the priority must be the health and safety of our patrons and having weighed all these considerations, there is no choice but to cancel this year’s festival.”
An event of this scale would go against the efforts of the city to “flatten the curve” or decrease the spread of the coronavirus disease. Toronto currently has a ban on public gatherings to help decrease the spread of the virus. Festival organizers believe that they have a responsibility to the city and their patrons “to encourage social distancing, hand washing, and self-isolation to support the efforts of our first responders and essential workers who are at the frontline of the COVID-19 containment.”
During any other year, bands for instance, would usually start practicing months in advance for events like Pan Alive. That means festival participants would be gathering in groups for practice during the ban this year. “This festival is a labor of love,” says the Festival Management Committee, “created by our extraordinary talented artistic stakeholders, and supported by participants and volunteers, who begin preparation for the spectacular King and Queen Show and the Grand Parade six months in advance of the scheduled events.”
Over a thousand volunteer musicians and coordinators would normally gather together in groups across the city to plan and practice for their performances just for the Pan Alive event alone. Costume fittings and measurements would require close contact. Travel between local cities would increase community spread of the disease. That’s not taking into consideration the audiences and participants who travel across borders to perform and walk the parade route with millions of other revellers.
People travel from city to city and from all over the world to attend these events every year, making the festival a great economic booster for businesses large and small, especially to the travel and tourism industry. Travellers spend money to get to Toronto. While they’re here, they stay in hotels, buy local goods, eat in restaurants, attend shows and visit tourist sites to take in local culture.
Given the importance and economic value of this festival to the city and the community, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival management committee says they will work with their partners and members to assist the city with recovery efforts after COVID-19. They say they will try to celebrate together in a non-traditional format on the weekend of August 1, 2020 if circumstances change and restrictions are lifted by July 1, 2020.