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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

Caribbean Carnival continues to take ova de road

The festival formerly known as Caribana has brought millions of people into Toronto and billions of dollars to the country’s economy. But despite being part of the fabric of the nation, there are seams that expose the country’s myths on multiculturalism.

Members of the Durham mas on stage for the band launch party in Scarborough, Saturday, April 1st, 2017.

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Members of the Durham mas on stage for the band launch party in Scarborough, Saturday, April 1st, 2017.

Fireworks are fun, but they’re fleeting. What makes this country real are the people and communities that form it. As the country celebrates 150 years of nationhood, Metro’s national columnist Vicky Mochama set out across Canada to discover how five different groups are creating space here.

Here, Part 6: Scenes from Caribana

The most successful event from Canada’s centennial in 1967 wasn’t Expo 67. In my view, it was Caribana.

Under the sun of the August long weekend, it is the one weekend when I’m not jealous of friends at cottages or family on vacation.

The city streets become a party for Afro-Caribbean people.

Paulette Grant is Jamaican and her husband, Clint Murphy, is from Trinidad. For their family, the festival formerly known as Caribana, is the time of the year when they can bring their two cultures to their daughters. “We try to immerse the girls as much as we can,” says Murphy. “This is the time of year when they’re fully immersed.”

The girls play mas in the children’s carnival, a dedicated space for younger participants. Grant and Murphy say the daughters get so excited that the children’s event is, for them, the main event, not the big parade. Their parents cherish it as a time to catch up with family and friends, but also to reconnect with their carnival traditions.

“For us," says Grant, "it’s a deeper meaning."

Paulette Grant with her husband, Clint Murphy, and daughters Morgan, 4, and Madison (with glasses), 7, Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Paulette Grant with her husband, Clint Murphy, and daughters Morgan, 4, and Madison (with glasses), 7, Sunday, July 9, 2017.

North America’s largest Caribbean festival was launched 50 years ago as part of the country’s birthday celebrations. Much like this year’s Canada 150 celebrations, minority communities back then wanted to show up and show out.

"People who came to Canada in the '50s and '60s always celebrated carnival; they celebrated carnival in community centres and in the basements of people's houses and so on,” says Rinaldo Walcott, the director of the University of Toronto’s Women and Gender Studies.

“But for the centennial in 1967, they decided to to make it public and offer up a public carnival as a way of demonstrating their own contributions to something called Canada.”

The festival has brought millions of people into Toronto and billions of dollars to the country’s economy. But despite being part of the fabric of the nation, there are seams that expose the country’s myths on multiculturalism.

When the parade first started, the route took it down Yonge Street. In the '70s, it was moved over to University Avenue. It now winds its way past the Canadian National Exhibition grounds and down Lake Shore.

While the main parade has been shifted from the core of the city, the city itself has been inserted into the centre of how the festival is run. Starting in 2006, the parade’s organizing body has been an arms-length organization created by the city that took over from the original founders. Ongoing schisms between the two groups led to a name change. (But, like, it's Caribana though.)

Says Walcott, “Obviously, most spectacularly, the claim of both financial mismanagement and violence are the things that have plagued Caribana. But we've also known from successes and economic impact reports that Caribana brings a tremendous amount of wealth into the City of Toronto."

The last major economic impact study found the festival, which is actually a full week's worth of events, brought in $438 million into the local economy in 2009, according to a study from Ryerson University. For contrast, the Toronto International Film Festival, a 10-day event, brought in $189 million to the city in 2013.

It is one of many lasting contributions to Canada by Caribbean people.

As Murphy notes, the city is quick to celebrate Caribana, but not the experience of Caribbean residents. “It would be nice if the city also celebrates the independence of those Caribbean nations.” He suggests flying their flags at city hall.

As a cultural space for Black and Caribbean people, Caribana is invaluable.

While Black life continues to be questioned and surveilled, there is at least one space Black and Caribbean people take over without apology. It is thus no wonder that the festival is a major summer stop-over for Black people across North America.

Still, one of its original goals was to create a community centre for Black Torontonians. To this day, no such building exists despite the contributions of the community to the economy and life of the city.

And yet, no matter what, Caribana will continue to take over de road.

More in After The Party:

Part 1: Making space

Coming up:

Part 7: Welcome to the Gaybourhood

Part 8: The Indigenous City

Join the conversation and tell us how you make space in this place: #AfterTheParty

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