Always jovial, socially conscious and very community-oriented, Peter Marcelline has left his mark on the community.
The Caribana co-founder and retired City of Toronto planner passed away on October 4 at Mount Sinai Hospital after a lengthy illness. He would have celebrated his 79th birthday on October 27.
The ninth of 10 children born and raised in Princes Town in south-central Trinidad, Marcelline graduated from St. Mary’s College, where his classmates included retired Toronto District School Board (TDSB) principal, Lennox Borel.
“We were close in high school and we played soccer together,” said Borel, who has judged several local calypso monarch finals.
They reunited in Toronto in 1960 when Marcelline left the University of Manitoba after a few months to attend the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College.
“We were teammates on the university’s soccer team where Peter excelled as a centre forward,” said Borel. “He had a powerful shot with either foot and he would often remind us that his feet were ‘The Guns of Navarone’ (in reference to the 1961 movie in which two powerful German guns control the seas past the Greek island of Navarone making the evacuation of endangered British troops on a neighbouring island impossible). In addition to his soccer prowess, Peter cared about Caribbean culture and was a very vocal advocate for the underprivileged.”
Graduating in 1964 with a master’s degree in city planning, Marcelline spent three decades with the City of Toronto collaborating with engineers, transportation workers, parks and recreation staff, social workers, architects and designers to devise urban plans.
When the Caribbean community in the city decided to put on a cultural festival as their gift to Canada’s centennial year festivities in 1967, Marcelline planned the parade route from Varsity Stadium to Nathan Phillip Square and the subsequent city hall reception.
The inaugural parade attracted almost 30,000 spectators and influenced then Mayor William Dennison to challenge the organizers to repeat the cultural extravaganza. In order to sustain the event, Marcelline and his then wife put up their first home as collateral to secure a bank loan. For nearly 30 years, he served as chair and in other capacities of the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which organized Caribana.
“Peter dedicated countless hours doing work for Caribana,” said founding member, Dr. Maurice Bygrave, who was the inaugural festival publicity and advertising co-ordinator. “He was instrumental in its launching and ensuring it would last so long.”
Henry Gomez, a former chair of the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) that replaced the CCC as the organizer of the annual Caribbean summer carnival, said Marcelline played a key role in transforming the city.
“He helped to focus the energy of Toronto’s Black community through the Caribana festival,” said Gomez, a retired TDSB educator. “He has left a lasting impact on the economic, social and cultural life of this city. Peter was never afraid to speak up for what he believed in, a trait I admired dearly.”
A proponent of social welfare, Marcelline – who is survived by three children – was an active union member who sat on the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 executive and served on the bargaining, human rights and retirees committees. He also worked at the provincial and national levels.
Marcelline, along with a few of his U of T mates of Caribbean heritage and CARIBANA co-founders, met every month for lunch at either Scarlet Ibis or The Real Jerk restaurants.
“We would reminisce about old times and eat which is something Peter liked,” said registered professional planner and Niagara Escarpment Commission member, Cecil Louis, who met Marcelline at St. Mary’s in the late 1940s. “He had a sense of humor and would tell us great stories about his experiences as a railway porter which some of us did during the summer to pay to go to school.”
The group of about 25 called themselves “The ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out)” and Marcelline was the self-anointed chair.
“He always sat at the head of the table,” said Dr. Bygrave, who migrated from Jamaica in 1954 and is a dentist by profession. “He was ‘The Don’. I pray that there wouldn’t be a turf war to find his replacement.”
Marcelline, who was also an avid bird watcher, was cremated last week. A public celebration of his life will take place at a date to be announced.
Donations in his memory could be made to www.sistering.org or the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund.
By RON FANFAIR