By TOM GODFREY
The late Charles Roach came to mind as I waited in a long line to purchase a soft drink at last Saturday’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade.
The massive throngs of revelers were so thick alongLake Shore Blvd. W., that it was difficult to walk to theStrachan Ave.footbridge to check out the food tents. Tired of being stepped on, I just gave up.
The mas’ players and spectators were warm, friendly and kept on smiling. Even those weighed down with huge costumes were in good spirits. It is nice to see so many people withCaribbeanroots in one place having a great time.
There were many families and children along the route, and many more playing mas’ behind trucks laden with huge speakers that shook everything along the 4.5 km route.
I felt my heart briefly stop from the vibration of a speaker on a truck that stopped in front of me. On top on the boxes stood DJs urging the crowd to wave their flags, as young scantily-dressed women danced and wined to calypso, soca, reggae, hip-hop, chutney, steel pan and brass bands.
This year we salute our many U.S.friends for having to brave a terrible closure of the Burlington Skyway and detours on their drive to Toronto. Many of our neighbours arrived late for the parade but said it was worth the trip.
Most visitors and revelers had an excellent time at the parade and jump-up on Centre Island. There was a stabbing incident near the end of the parade route that involved a fight between two men.
The estimated 1.2 million party goers are expected to leave more than $300 million in our city and, as always, all hotel rooms were booked and parties packed.
The planning has begun for next year’s fete, which will be our 48th since the festival was founded as a gift toCanada’s centennial celebrations. It’s almost 50 years and the community has nothing to show for losing our premiere event that showcases our culture.
It seems to many that the big winners are the major sponsors, like Scotiabank, Ontario Lottery and Gaming and others, whose signs and banners were everywhere.
Some say most of the proceeds, including the sale of $20 tickets to enter Exhibition Grounds to view the bands, have left the community and our small businesses for the bank accounts of Big Corporations.
Roach, and other founding fathers of the then Caribana, had sought for proceeds from the festivities to be used to obtain a cultural center for the Black community.
But, it is too late. The naming rights and sponsorships of the festival were awarded to the highest bidder without any consultation from the community, who are the main stakeholders.
The City and sponsors now seem to own and operate the festival and damn if we will ever get it back. No doubt, that horse has left the stable.
Still, many revelers this year refused to pay an entrance fee to a sponsor, who has no obligation to return a benefit to the community. Many of us opted to wait alongLake Shore Blvd.to catch a free glimpse of the bands as they crawl to an end atParkside Dr.
We now have people running the festival for whom the event is a paycheque rather than the spreading of a cultural tradition that was formed through struggle. Many of the staff don’t even know who Roach is, nor do they care.
If the founders had had their way, rather than those who sold out the festival, we as a community may now have a facility similar to that of the Italian or Jewish communities.
The Carnival this year again was a tremendous success for tourists, some businesses and sponsors. Once again the community has been deprived of possible revenues and any chance of obtaining a centre for our youth.
Sadly, our festival was stolen from us and there seems to be little that we can do about it.