With rugged landscapes, largely unexploited multi-layered rainforest and rare species of wildlife, Dominica is a natural paradise.
Brampton resident, Tyria Benjamin, will get the opportunity to explore the Caribbean nirvana for the first time after winning the Madame Wob Dwiyet (Canada) cultural competition.
A return ticket to Dominica was among the winner’s prizes for the Canadian-born mother of two who has never visited her father’s birthplace.
“I have heard so much about the island and its beauty,” said the 24-year-old, whose mother migrated from Grenada. “To be able to finally get the opportunity to go there is a dream come true. I am really looking forward to it.”
Benjamin was among six contestants in the annual pageant produced by fashion designer, Lorraine Delsol.
“I attended the last two shows and decided this was something that I wanted to take part in,” said Benjamin. “Figuring out the basic wob dance steps and incorporating my personality in it was among the rigorous preparation that I went through in the last two months.”
Delsol designed and sewed Benjamin’s wob dress.
“I bought the material and ‘blinged’ out the outfit with jewels to give it some sheen,” she said.
The Wob Dwiyet is a style of ladies dress that emerged in the French West Indies towards the end of the 18th century and its design is believed to have originated in southern France, where women at the time wore a similar outfit. The dress, considered a significant aspect of Dominica’s colonial heritage that is usually worn on special occasions, comprises a long petticoat made of cotton or satin and decorated with rows of lace ribbon, a full length outer dress with a trail and narrow sleeves that extend to the wrists, a scarf and a folded headpiece that’s decorated to suit the wearer’s taste.
Representing Wesley, which is small village in northeastern Dominica, Benjamin exuded confidence and poise on stage.
“I thought I would be nervous, but I had so much fun and I forgot I was there in front of a crowd of people,” she said.
A personal support worker, Benjamin aspires to become a nurse after considering the legal profession for a brief period.
While enrolled at Bishop Allen Academy seven years ago, she took part in the Justice Education Program “mock trial” delivered to young people from challenged communities by Justice Kofi Barnes, assistant crown attorneys and defence counsel.
“After that mock trial, I had many people tell me that I should become a lawyer,” said the Yorkdale Adult Learning Centre graduate. “But after some soul-searching, I decided that I could best utilize my skills to help people through nursing.”
Benjamin’s popularity with the audience and judges was reflected in the scoring.
In addition to capturing the grand prize, she clinched the individual Miss Cultural Ambassador Online, Best Introduction, Best Cultural Wear and Best Costume awards and shared the Best in Wob Award with Wendy Charles, who was the second runner-up.
A Salvation Army volunteer and student, Charles also intends to pursue nursing as a career.
The other contestants were fitness instructor, Shani Haynes, who was the first runner-up; certified life skills coach, Chirysh Dupie, who is enrolled in York University’s Bachelor of Social Science program; painter/interior decorator, Usline Anthony and occupational & physiotherapist assistant, Saran George.
The event also featured a Ti Madame category for young girls.
Aspiring medical doctor and professional soccer player, Krystal Elie, stole the spotlight in the showcase celebrating Dominica’s rich culture.
“It was fun out there and I enjoyed it,” said the Grade Seven French Immersion student, who attends Saint Mark the Evangelist Catholic School in Whitby.
Elie’s parents, Derek and Patricia, were born in England and Jamaica, respectively.
“She has a passion for dance and she loves performing,” said her father, who is a student supervisor at Neil McNeil High School.
The 12-year-old, whose paternal grandfather was born in Dominica, is also an accomplished soccer striker with Whitby Iroquois Soccer Club.
Allidia Aubrey and Destiny Darroux were the first and second runners-up in the competition that also included Avena Cunningham, Isalina Delsol, Amel Sylvester and Shalyn Letang.
The judges were real estate & mortgage agent Shami Maharaj, fundraising co-ordinator Loanna Thomaseau-Gbeanou, Workplace Safety & Insurance Board adjudicator Ferdinand Fortune, Festival Management Committee chair Denise Herrera-Jackson and hairstylist Marcella Durand, who won the Commonwealth of Dominica Ontario Association Madam Wob Dwiyet title five years ago.
As part of the celebration, a cultural award was presented to educator and playwright, Dr. Alwin Bully, who was unable to attend the event.