The time has come to speak up and demand the return of the annual Caribana celebration to its rightful owners which is the community, says festival co-founder, Dr. Maurice Bygrave.
He and two other founding members were honoured at the Caribana Arts Group’s (CAG) third annual appreciation brunch last Sunday.
The CAG replaced the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which ran North America’s largest summer festival until 2006, when the City of Toronto withdrew funding and created the Festival Management Committee (FMC) to run it.
“Questions such as who should own Caribana, who should operate it and how can we maintain and protect its integrity needs to be answered,” said Bygrave. “Mr. Arnold Auguste of Share has editorialized the issues almost on a weekly basis in a fair and uncompromising manner so we can appreciate and understand exactly what’s happening with Caribana and what’s at stake. He deserves our attention and feedback…Our young people need pillars, landmarks and icons they can be proud of and Caribana should definitely be one of them.”
A dentist by profession, Bygrave was the publicity and advertising coordinator for the inaugural festival that was the Caribbean community’s gift to Canada’s centennial year festivities in 1967.
“Getting together with friends and colleagues was a natural pastime for us in the 1960s, so when the idea of participating in Canada’s centenary celebrations came about, most of us were excited,” recalled Bygrave, who migrated from Jamaica in 1954. “We were successful in changing the then stereotype of Canadians as being stiff, cold and unfriendly. We broke the ice, turned up the heat and filled the atmosphere with sweet sounds of music and poetry from the Caribbean…Never in our wildest dreams or during our hallucinatory moments did we foresee that this crazy idea would become one of Toronto’s major economic, cultural and social events.”
Other founding members recognized were former treasurer, George Lowe, and Joan Alexander. Also honoured were former chairs Monica Pollard and Leslie Forbes, ex-bandleader and parade chair Russell Charter and professor emeritus Dr. Jeff Henry, who was unable to attend the event because of illness.
“These people have played a major role in the life of the organization formerly known as the Caribbean Cultural Committee,” said CAG chair Henry Gomez. “The three people we have here who started this festival never had an inkling that it would grow to what it is today. They saw it as a community festival. Today, it has become so successful that others look at it and see it as a money-making machine not benefiting the community but instead enhancing the coffers of others.”
Gomez paid tribute to festival founding member, Charles Roach, who passed away earlier this month.
“He played a major role in the development of the festival,” said Gomez. “Even though we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, we have to give him his dues. He made a stand and a positive difference.”
The CAG also recognized educator and theatre pioneer Amah Harris and artistic director/choreographer Martin Scott-Pascall for their voluntary contributions to the “Flags & Colours” kiddies’ carnival in the Jane and Finch community last July.
“Your dedication and self-sacrifice made a positive difference in the lives of children through the use of the Caribbean Carnival Arts,” Gomez told the recipients, who were presented with Certificates of Appreciation. “We could not have done it without you.”
By RON FANFAIR