The sights and sounds of the Caribbean will take over Exhibition Place today as the grand parade of the Caribbean Carnival returns to Toronto.
“We are excited to be able to get back ‘on the road,’” Toronto Caribbean Carnival Board President Laverne Garcia told CP24.com.
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the 55th anniversary of the parade promises to be one of the biggest to date, with more than 10,000 masked people expected to take part.
For those who have never been to the parade, CP24.com has the answers you need on when and where the parade is, what it stands for and what it means to “play more”.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE PARADE?
The Caribbean Carnival dates back to the late 18th century in Trinidad and Tobago as a celebration that marked the end of slavery and the freedom of black plantation workers.
People took to the streets to celebrate their newfound freedom, mimicking what they saw at pre-Lenten masquerade balls and parties thrown by their former masters.
“So while they had these balls, it eventually led to uprising and freedom and emancipation. But they would gather in the streets and have their own kind of parallel celebrations but in the streets,” Garcia said.
Fast forward to 1967 and that’s when Toronto hosted its first major parade, which would become one of the largest outdoor festivals in North America.
The parade is held annually over the long weekend of August, which is also recognized as Canada’s Emancipation Day weekend.
The parade was gifted to Canada by the Caribbean community during the country’s centennial celebrations.
Garcia says it’s an amazing feeling to celebrate carnival in person once again.
“After two and a half years of lockdown and people being ordered to separate and not be in community, it’s amazing to see people coming out again and being so excited to participate in carnival,” Garcia said.
“It’s interesting to me how Toronto as a whole has really embraced carnival. And for a lot of people, it’s just part of what summer means to them in Toronto,” she added.
WHO PARTICIPATES IN THE PARADE?
To march in the parade, which stretches along Lake Shore Boulevard West, revelers must join a band of participating masks.
“These bands apply to us, get approved, and then get seed funding from us. And then they go on and start their mas camp, which is where they usually get a commercial property for the summer…and they build their costumes there,” Garcia said.
Bands usually start preparing for carnival a year in advance.
“I mean they are like little families because people spend countless hours there, putting costumes together, getting ready for all the revelers that are coming,” Garcia said.
Each band has multiple sections, and each section has its own theme that ties into the overall theme of the band.
Band members represent their theme through their costumes and floats.
When it is time to participate in the parade, it is also known as “playing more”.
“When you play more, the average reveler, they go down the street, play, jump, dance to the music and just have fun,” Garcia said.
WHAT DO THE SUITS REPRESENT?
Many spectators come to the parade to see the beautiful variety of costumes and floats.
When the parade first began in Trinidad and Tobago, the masked men wore costumes that represented a political statement.
“There are certain characters that used to be portrayed, and they were kind of caricatures or, you know, political satire on the social environment and the social political environment at the time,” Garcia said.
“As carnival has evolved, and over time, it has become more about the freedom of the individual and not being held back by the limitations of society… I think that is part of the reason why there are so many costumes they are really open. and there is a great urge to embrace yourself, your body, and freedom and liberation,” he added.
Each band spends hours and hours of work designing and making costumes for the big parade.
Tribal Carnival is the third largest gang in Toronto and has over 100 masqueraders.
CEO Celena Seusahai says the band’s theme this year is Kingdom and all sections of the band will have costumes that reflect that.
“My section this year is called the Emerald City…you will see green and blue,” he told CP24.com.
Seusahai says that the band only uses Toronto-based designers and that they will begin production of their costumes in May.
“It takes a lot of work and we do a lot of research, hours to make sure the subject matter we’re portraying comes out right. I would say the design process, we started in December. As soon as one carnival is over, we start planning the next one.”
Seusahai says the costumes can range in price from $350 to $1,600.
WHAT CAN PARADE GOERS EXPECT?
If this is your first time attending the parade, be prepared to “jump” and dance the day away.
Bands will make their way through the exhibit grounds in costume dancing to soca, dancehall and more, while waving flags representing their native countries or heritage.
Spectators are also encouraged to dance and bring their own flags to the parade.
“Whatever it is, it just represents where you’re from. And that’s also part of that, because a lot of this has to do with positivity as well,” Garcia said.
“Fifty-five years ago, we didn’t have the same attitude toward multiculturalism and celebrating where we came from and our culture.”
There is also a competition component of the parade. The bands will compete for the title of band of the year.
“So you have your costume on, you’re playing mas, you’re dancing down the street, and then you can walk across the stage and show off all your hard work. And the judges will judge based on creativity, impact and different things, different categories. And then one band will be crowned band of the year,” Garcia said.
The winner will get to choose when to walk the stage in next year’s big parade.
WHEN AND WHERE IS THE SHOW?
Opening ceremonies will begin at 9:30 a.m. on the grounds of Exhibition Place and Hotel X, with the parade expected to start at 10 a.m. and run until 6 p.m.
This year, the parade has a different route than in previous years.
There will be two starting points: some bands will walk the parade route first, while others will walk across the main stage to be judged first.
Masquerades will walk along Lake Shore Boulevard West through the Exhibition Place grounds.
“Everything is blocked. In reality, it is only the masked ones who are in the parade. Every year, people try to participate in the parade just to be a part of it. But you really have to join one more band to participate in the parade,” Garcia said.
Attendees can view the parade from Lake Shore Boulevard or pay an admission fee to the fairgrounds to view from there.
There will be many vendors along the Lake Shore selling food and drinks throughout the day.
Garcia encourages attendees to wear comfortable shoes and prepare to relax and celebrate.
“Comfortable shoes and plenty of water are essential. And, I guess, a freedom of spirit and a willingness to have a lot of fun.”