That was Russell Charter’s reaction when he learned that he would be honoured for his enormous contributions to the promotion of carnival arts in the Greater Toronto Area in the last four decades.
The annual event, acknowledging carnival organizers and industry leaders, takes place on Friday, July 25 at the Liberty Grand.
Two years ago, Charter was honoured with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, a City Of Oshawa certificate for his contributions to Black History Month, a provincial government recognition for 30 years of volunteerism and a Caribana Arts Group award.
“I appreciate the recognition from these groups, but I have been part of the Caribana festival for the longest while and it feels real good to be honoured,” he said. “This is big for me. I am not going to stand here and take all the credit, but I feel as if I have done a lot to promote and organize this annual festival.”
Charter brought a wealth of carnival experience to Canada when he migrated in 1970.
He was privileged to be raised in the same community – Barataria – with the late Lewcito “Cito” Velasquez, who was considered one of Trinidad & Tobago’s top wire benders. When Charter moved to St. James a few years later, he gravitated to some of the area’s top steel orchestras, including Silver Stars, founded by Edgar “Junior” Pouchet.
Silver Stars collaborated with Charter to produce Gulliver’s Travels, which won the Band of the Year and People’s Choice Awards in 1963. The victory was historic as it marked the first time that a steelband had won the competition.
Last March, the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra became just the second steelpan outfit to clinch the coveted Band of the Year honour.
A two-time president and lifetime member of Club Carib, Charter started the Oshawa Father’s Day parade that runs into the Fiesta Week celebration, showcasing a kaleidoscope of colourful costumes. He also organized a band, >From the Caribbean With Love, that captured the Band of the Year title in 1979.
Recognized last year by Festivals & Events Ontario for his ongoing volunteerism, Charter was one of the first registered paramedics in the province in 1979.
The Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA), the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) and the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA), were each invited to nominate deserving individuals for the awards.
The TMBA and OCPA nominated Eddy Merchant and Verna Leader, respectively.
A five-time Band of the Year winner, Merchant – whose passion is wire bending – has been recognized by several organizations, including Westend Sports & Cultural Club and Hawks International Toronto chapter for his vigorous promotion of the carnival arts.
Leader, who co-founded the Caribbean Dancers (Vancouver) that won the Best of the British Columbia Talent Show Award, joined OCPA in 1998 and has held various positions, including constitution committee and rehearsal and judging co-ordinators chairs.
A master gardener and certified garden designer, she is a human resources professional.
The OSA nominated Earle Wong, who played and arranged before becoming a tuner in 1979. Coming to Canada in 1968, he joined the University of Toronto’s Steltones and arranged a few tracks on A Mellow Taste of Steel, the first steelband album produced in Canada by a resident band.
Wong, who is a Ryerson University industrial engineering and business administration graduate, is the recipient of myriad steelpan awards, including the Leo Spree Award for pan tuning and the Raphael Passey Award for his outstanding contribution to pan movement in Canada.
Mary Scoon is the recipient of the Volunteer Award and Joyce Davis Benjamin is the Kathy Searles Memorial Award winner.
Searles, who died in December 2008, made an extensive and continuous contribution to Toronto’s Caribana from its inception in 1967 when she served on the Caribbean Centennial Committee board up until three years ago when she last attended the parade.
By RON FANFAIR