This weekend, Toronto’s Black and Caribbean population will expand substantially, filling hotels, restaurants and places of interest around the city. Those who already live here along with the anticipated thousands of visitors who look forward each year to participating in celebration of Caribbean culture in North America will no doubt feel the exuberance of that culture over the next few days.
Toronto during the summer is a marching line of festivals reflecting all the cultures of the world that are here. Among them, our annual celebration of Caribbean culture is no shrinking violet. Costumes and music speak to a vibrant creativity that, when not playing mas, adds so much more to the lifeblood of this city.
This year marks the 48th consecutive year that Caribbean Canadians will have played mas’ on the streets of Toronto. And while it looks like just so much fun and frivolity, it cannot be forgotten that the annual boost of well over $400 million to the Canadian economy is also a significant aspect of this festival. That is a massive return from the heartfelt efforts of hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers.
That is what we do here. People from the Caribbean arrived here as far back as 1796 when 556 arrived from Jamaica and landed in Nova Scotia, where their energies were put to work in construction of Halifax’s famous Citadel Hill Fort.
Jamaicans continue to make up the largest group of immigrants from the Caribbean, most having made Toronto – and then the Greater Toronto Area – their home. They are followed by the tens of thousands from other countries of the Caribbean: Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Antigua, Grenada.
Even so, our Caribbean celebration has a distinct flavour reflecting the Trinidad & Tobago origins of many in the early group of volunteers that started this remarkable celebration as a way to participate in Canada’s centenary in 1967.
Our annual summer celebration is the highest profile presentation of Caribbean Canadian participation, yet there are countless markers of this community’s contribution to building this city and this country. The participation in advocacy by immigrants from the Caribbean for equality for all in our adopted home has resulted in the establishment of such organizations as the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Groups such as the Jamaican Canadian Association, Tropicana Community Services, the African Heritage Educators’ Network, the Caribbean Arts Group, and many more, forge ahead daily, working to support and build for this city’s posterity.
Touring around the city, at the Royal Ontario Museum, the postmodern addition of the architecturally imposing Crystal resting on Bloor Street at Avenue Road bears the name of Jamaican-born Michael Lee Chin. Along Eglinton Avenue, stretching westward from Marlee Avenue, can be found just one of a number of thriving Caribbean business districts.
Historically, the significant participation by Canada in taking a strong stand against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s came from the grassroots actions of many in the immigrant Caribbean community. When South African leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after 27 years behind bars, he came in short order to Canada to thank this country for its strong stand. Many in the crowd that greeted him here in Toronto understood that it was their persistent energies against the oppressive regime that eventually brought him here.
So this weekend, we will dance and make merry. We recognize in it the vibrancy that we put into so many of our endeavours, to continue to do honour to our character as a community, which although diverse, has in common a tremendous capacity for creating and contributing to this city and to this country.
If you are just visiting Toronto, or if you already live here, this coming weekend promises a perfect opportunity to appreciate Caribbean heritage, Canadian-style.