The gift of carnival

Vancouver has had its winter Olympics and Calgary has its annual Stampede, but the best cultural festival in this country for our money – for anybody’s money – is Toronto’s festival celebrating Caribbean culture, fondly known as Caribana. You won’t hear the officials call it Caribana this year because of trademark restrictions and we at Share have raised our concerns regarding this but, by whatever name it is called, the gift to Canada by Canadians from the Caribbean, the gift that just keeps on giving, is the premier festival in a city whose many cultural communities spare little when it comes to their festivals. Thousands of volunteers from the Caribbean community and beyond have committed their time, energy and even money over the past 44 years to make this festival happen each summer.

And to them we say thank you. Thank you for your passion, your creativity and your continued commitment to bringing our culture forward and sharing it with the rest of the city and those who travel from points far beyond, some coming all the way from the other side of the Atlantic, to be here with us, to join in our celebration.

That bright spark that was a gift and a form of celebration as we joined the rest of Canada to mark our nation’s centenary back in 1967 was such a success that we just had to keep doing it.

And, while Caribana is a festival of Caribbean culture here in Canada, everyone is welcome – actually, encouraged – to share in the fun.

Of course, there is also a business side to all the pleasure and excitement that Caribana is. We know from a recent audit that our festival brings in more than $480-million to the city each summer, surpassing the revenue brought into provincial coffers by any other festival. Given that figure, we estimate that in the past 25 years alone, our Caribbean gift to Canada, which continues to grow, has been worth more than $11-billion. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

These monies continue to benefit the area’s restaurants, hotels, cab drivers and other businesses which depend on Caribana to make their year, not to mention the provincial and federal tax collectors who, by our reckoning, take in something in the region of $60-million in G.S.T and P.S.T.(and now H.S.T.) each summer. So, someone owes the festival organizers and participants – the costume builders and makers, the steelpan bands, the calypsonians, the mas’ bands –  a very big Thanks You!

We could look for explanations as to why, despite all the agonizing that goes on leading up to the festival, especially concerning the sources of funding (or lack, thereof) that comes each year with producing Caribana, members of the Caribbean community continue to pour their hearts and souls into the festival. But we could simply say it is in our DNA to celebrate life this way. The costumes reflect all the finery of nature; the music carried by the steel drum is the sound of the music in our hearts; our dance tells of our joy of freedom, the freedom this weekend represents, the emancipation from slavery.

So regardless of what the festival community may face, challenges of bureaucracy, the weather or currency fluctuations, people of Caribbean heritage and hundreds of thousands of others who appreciate the creative beauty and pure enthusiasm that are the essence of the festival make it, as they have over the past four decades, the centre of their year.

We hope all the festival events are successful. Regardless of how we may feel about recent changes, changes we continue to hope will be addressed in the near future, we want this festival to continue to be a success as it represents us – all of us – from the Caribbean.

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