This year’s Caribana parade route has been extended by nearly 1.5 kilometres and there will be a market area, rides for the kids and additional paid seating to accommodate the deluge of spectators expected to descend on the city for North America’s largest summer street carnival on July 30.
The parade begins on the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds south of BMO Field with the floats and revellers heading east then south at the All Stream Centre before turning near the Ontario Place entrance onto the traditional Lakeshore Blvd. route where they will pass the new judges stand.
A new VIP section will be erected near the judges stand to accommodate spectators wishing to buy individual tents for companies, families and friends. The tents cost $150.
“The changes were done with the intention of offering a better presentation for the paying customers and the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA),” said Festival Management Committee chief executive officer Denise Herrera-Jackson. “There was also a request for the new VIP package that we are now offering.”
The price of the bleacher seats near BMO Field has decreased from $20 to $15.
Nearly 20,000 revellers are expected to participate in this year’s parade and another one million will line the parade route.
FMC chief administrative officer Chris Alexander said the changes this year are necessary and he promised there will be more modifications in the next few years.
“It has been 44 years and it’s time for change,” said the former Scotiabank branch manager at last Tuesday’s Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto (SCCT) launch at Nathan Phillips Square. “Given my business background, finance plays a major role in how we look at this festival. For decades, we have had some sponsors, but we depended heavily on the funding from the city, the province and to a lesser extent the federal government.
“The monies are spent as soon as we receive them. We are a living, breathing example of the trickle down economic effect…Since Scotiabank came aboard five years ago, we as a festival realized we had to conduct our business in a different manner. We have to make sure we have new revenue sources and this year is the start of our change. We are shaping programs that are so good that people will want to pay to participate in them. We are also focusing on attracting new sponsors who will see the value in investing in this festival. We are not saying no to grant funding, but we will like to view them as investments in the festival as opposed to an annual spend philosophy.”
The city has received nearly $1 million in funding from the three levels of government for this year’s festival.
The feds acquiesced to a grant request made last November for $56,500 under the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage program, the provincial government is providing the maximum $400,000 under the Celebrate Ontario initiative and an additional $170,000 and the city is offering close to $495,000.
“We are there 110 per cent behind the festival to make sure that it happens,” said the city’s Caribana liaison Joe Mihevc. “We cannot as Torontonians underplay how important this festival is to this city…It brings in several hundred millions of dollars from people spending and making sure that our businesses are active.
An Ipsos Reid study released over a year ago showed that Caribana generated $483 million for the provincial economy in 2009, drawing about 1.2 million festival-goers from Toronto, across Canada and around the world.
Mihevc however said there is much more to the festival than money.
“That only scratches the surface because we know that, at a deeper level, it’s also about the contribution to arts and culture in our city,” he said. “Who can beat the picture of a mas’ band going down Lakeshore, looking back, seeing the CN Tower in the background and dancing in the street. That picture stands for the contribution of arts and culture to this city.
“I think if you really want to talk about the contribution of the festival over the last four decades, it has affected the soul of our city and the very soul of what it means to be Torontonians. I think that without this festival, we would be a little tighter. We would have our ties done up too close around our necks and we will not be as tolerant and open to diversity and creativity. This festival has taught us how to dance and share our culture in a more vibrant and dynamic way with one another.”
Ontario’s Minister of Tourism & Culture, Michael Chan, and Mayor Rob Ford made appearances at the launch while city councillor Michael Thompson said he was overwhelmed with the creativity displayed at some of the mas’ tents he visited in the past few weeks.
Police chief William Blair assured Torontonians that the city will be safe to jump up and have a good time.
“My officers will be out for the entire three weeks of the celebration and most importantly at the parade,” he said. “We look forward to being there with you. I want my officers to jump up and join in the celebration of music, food and culture.”
This year’s celebrations also include Saturday’s junior carnival at Yorkgate Mall, art exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gladstone Hotel, the annual fundraising gala, the Calypso Monarch Finals, a special citizenship ceremony at North York Civic Centre, the King and Queen competition and show, the Pan Alive contest and a rugby match featuring Canada and Jamaica.