Toronto is the top visited destination in Canada with more than 40 million visitors annually, and it’s the perfect spot for your next summer excursion. It’s one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet (more than 140 languages spoken) and the epicenter for art and culture in Canada. Travelers should set aside time to visit the Royal Ontario Museum, which is the largest museum in Canada, featuring more than six million objects and pieces.
The Toronto Caribbean Carnival is one of the largest outdoor festivals in North America with more than 1.3 million attendees annually, and will take place July 7 - August 6 at Exhibition Place. It’s the Carnival’s 50th anniversary of introducing people to the unique and vibrant culture of Caribbean Canadians. Attendees can participate in a variety of Caribbean-themed events including performance tents, dances, costume competitions, and more. The Grand Parade is a must attend activity which features an impressive display of music, costumes, coordination, and color. Patrons can listen to live music from reggae to salsa at the “blockoramas” or street parties and eat traditional Caribbean foods at a variety of vendors. Kids can participate in the Junior Carnival which features great entertainment and activities for all ages. We got the opportunity to interview Sarbjit Kaur, a representative for the event, to learn more about this unique tribute to Caribbean culture.
RAL: How long has the event been running?
SK: The Carnival has been running annually since 1967, first performed as a gift from Canada's Caribbean community, as a tribute to Canada's Centennial. The event was so successful that it has continued and grown into the largest cultural event in Canada and the largest outdoor festival in North America.
RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?
SK: Billed as "North America's Largest Street Festival," it attracts over 1.3 million people each year for the Grand Parade and more than two million attendees overall.
RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?
SK: The event attracts Canadians of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We see every demographic represented.
RAL: What makes this event unique?
SK: Inspired primarily by Trinidad’s annual pre-Lenten Carnival, this three-week festival of the arts reflects the diverse expressive traditions of the Caribbean, bringing together a wide range of indigenous songs and instrumental music, dances, masquerade and oral traditions. It also features various foods and folk traditions of the region.
The highlight of the Carnival is the Grand Parade. The parade is a spectacular display of costume, sound, and color that winds its way past dense crowds for several hours. The parade consists of masquerade “bands” which perform alongside music bands (usually steel and brass, but the use of percussion groups is a more recent development).
RAL: Take me through the activities of a day at the event.
SK: Festival events include calypso “tents” (shows), “jump-ups” (dances), “fetes” (parties), “mas” (masquerade) competitions, a junior carnival, “pan blockos” or “blockoramas” (steel band street parties), and “talk tents” (shows featuring storytellers, comedians, and others well versed in oral traditions).
Music is a crucial component of the Grand Parade, as it supports one of the main aesthetic features of a Caribbean carnival, motion. The music is, for the most part, calypso and its newer form, soca (a neologism from soul and calypso). Other musical styles include reggae (from Jamaica), Tassa drumming (from the East Indian tradition in Trinidad), cadence (from Haiti and Dominica), zouk (from Saint Lucia and the French Caribbean), Latin salsa and, recently, North American rap and R&B.
RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?
SK: All accommodations and deals are on our website. Most hotels book quickly, so attendees should make arrangements ASAP.
RAL: What does this event mean to the community?
SK: Every year it draws carnival fans young and old to celebrate their heritage, music, and of course, food. The Carnival is a non-profit event that reflects the Carnival events that take place in several Caribbean Islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St Vincent, and Antigua. The entire event, which is one of the first Caribbean Carnivals to be held outside of the Caribbean region, brings in over $400 million into Ontario's economy annually.
RAL: Why should people come to your event?
SK: What started out in 1967 as a parade to celebrate black and Caribbean culture in Canada has now become a source of pride for all Canadians and the crown jewel of the city of Toronto's tourist attractions.
The parade features a broad range of indigenous songs, instrumental music, dances, colorful costumes, and traditional food. People from all regions come out at the Carnival, including participation from groups of South and Central America and Africa. It must be seen and experienced!
For more information about the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, please visit the event website.