From the time he arrived in Toronto on Caribana Parade Day in 1969, Selwyn “Nip” Davis was an integral part of North America’s largest street festival.
The veteran costume maker and mas’ band leader, who had been ailing for almost two years, succumbed to congestive heart failure last Tuesday.
Raised in Woodbrook which is the base for numerous Trinidad & Tobago mas’ camps and carnival bands, Davis played soccer and field hockey in school before becoming fully immersed in carnival activities.
Davis was a close friend of the late George Bailey considered T & T’s greatest bandleader. Bailey won the Band of the Year crown six times before dying suddenly in 1970.
“Dad started off his career under George,” said Davis’ eldest daughter, Sandra. “He learned his craft from one of the best in the business.”
Before coming to Toronto, the T & T government chose a replica of Davis’ second-place costume in the islands’ King & Queen competition for its 15-cent stamp.
“That was a very proud moment for him,” his daughter said.
A founding member of the Toronto Mas Band Association (TMBA) of which he was the secretary for many years, Davis’ stunning presentations won the Band of the Year title six times and the King and Queen of the Band crowns eight times each.
“Nip was very dedicated to his craft and to our annual festival,” said Caribana Arts Group chair Henry Gomez. “He could always be found helping young people understand the art of mas’ making and he was always looking for ways to promote the culture.”
Organization of Calypso Performing Arts board member Colin Benjamin said Davis was a major contributor to the arts community in Canada and T & T.
“Nip was a stalwart not only here but also in Trinidad,” said Benjamin. “Before becoming sick, he returned to Trinidad for Carnival every year and he could be found in the Ward Mas Camp Pub.
“He was someone who was soft spoken, reliable and above all a person you could trust.”
When he was not working on costumes, the head of Nip Davis & Associates was employed as a service manager by PepsiCo Canada for 17 years and the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto for nearly 12 years.
Davis’ rich and extensive cultural experience is included in the Multicultural History Society of Ontario’s Oral History Collection which is one of the largest in North America. It contains nearly 9,000 hours of interviews from every ethnic group in Canada.
Two years ago, Davis – whose mas’ band themed “Somewhere in the Orient” won the first prize in the 500-member six-band Class “B” section – was recognized for his cultural accomplishments at the second annual Caribana gala at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex.
Davis is survived by his wife of 33 years, Colleen, children Sandra, Donna, Natasha, Marcia and Tonya, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.