Caribana gets new operations manager

By RON FANFAIR

A familiar face is returning to help administer this year’s Scotiabank Caribana festival.

Sam Lewis, who once served as chairman and vice chairman of the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which produced the annual event for 38 years before the City of Toronto installed the Festival Management Committee (FMC) to run the show in 2006, has signed a five-month contract to serve as general manager responsible for operations.

Lewis has been the parade chair of the prestigious Trinidad & Tobago Carnival for the past five years. A total of 54 bands, some of them comprising up to 3,000 members, participated in this year’s T&T Carnival.

“I am excited to be back in the fold,” said Lewis, who last worked in an administrative position with Caribana 12 years ago. “Even though I have not been actively involved in that time, I have attended every Caribana festival and helped out wherever I can when called upon. I have also taken away a few things from this event that I was able to apply to the T & T Carnival.”

Lewis, who splits his time between T & T and Toronto where his children reside, said Caribana has been close to his heart since he first came to this city in the summer of 1969.

“I have always had a fancy for carnivals because my brother (Gerald Forsyth) was a pannist with Invaders back in the day,” he said. “In those days, pan was frowned upon and my mother did not want both of her sons to be doing the same thing. So, all I could do then was wave a flag in a band.”

Forsyth migrated to England and helped form the Pan Teachers Association in that country in the mid-1970s. He was also the steel band organizer for the Inner London Education Schools.

While Forsyth helped spread pan music through British schools, his younger brother became a CCC volunteer.

“I had friends who were part of Caribana, but I recall that it was Bonnie Hector who really coaxed me to get involved in the festival in response to a call for volunteers,” recounted Lewis, who served for 10 years with the Trinidad & Tobago police.

Raised in Woodbrook, on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain, the country’s capital, Lewis – who turns 70 in December – was also a parade marshal before being elected CCC chair in 1991 and then vice-chair the following year.

As the festival’s general manager responsible for operations this year, Lewis will work with the event managers to ensure the smooth co-ordination and delivery of each event, including the parade.

“It’s a challenge, but I have a special love for Caribana and Toronto,” said Lewis, who was employed with the Ontario Ministry of Health for three years and the Attorney General’s office before retiring nine years ago. “I stayed away from the management of Caribana over the years because I felt it was the right thing to do and I wanted to give others their space to operate. Even though the Caribana parade is small compared to the T & T Carnival, it’s the closest thing to our carnival back home and I have enjoyed it immensely.

“Caribana, for me, is more than a jump-up-and-wave event. It’s something that’s very important to the Caribbean community in particular and the festival goes a long way in making Toronto and Ontario the city and province that they are. I am a culture person and a ‘carnival jumbie’, you could say. It doesn’t take significant financial offerings for me to become involved. Once I felt I could make a contribution to this year’s event, I applied for the position and was ecstatic when I was selected.”

FMC chair and chief executive officer, Joe Halstead, said Lewis is experienced and well qualified for the position.

“Sam has lots of experience in carnival management, especially in parades and that’s expertise that we need to help improve our parade,” said Halstead. “We had 10 applicants for the position, but only four merited serious consideration and Sam’s strong credentials and interview worked well in his favour.

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