By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
The Caribana festival (as we used to know it), began simple enough as our community’s celebration both of our culture and of our presence in this amazing country.
Our early community stalwarts, memories of their youthful pleasures still burning brightly in their souls, chose to create a festival that until then was unknown in these parts.
And they called it Caribana.
They began with tentative steps, our community’s efforts to help celebrate Canada’s centenary in 1967. But the spirit took hold and they chose to keep it going.
For those of us who came, before or since, this festival gave us something to look forward to, that little piece of home, a chance to rekindle and to relive our earliest experiences and to float our minds back to a place and time where there was warmth, friendships, love and laughter.
We needed this, most of us for whom the new experience in this new land was a challenge. We needed, if only for a few days a year, to return home in our hearts.
And it was with enormous pride we were able to share this our culture with our love ones, our new friends, our new acquaintances and our new neighbours.
Caribana also became a time when we would ‘catch up’ with those we knew ‘back home’ who were now dispersed across this vast land and down into the States.
It wasn’t always easy to call them; not as it is today, with ease of access to cell and other telephone service. It also wasn’t easy to meet what with our efforts to get and hold on to jobs, and settle into our new homes. We also moved often back then, didn’t we?
But on Caribana day, that was when we knew we would meet up.
When the parade first began, it was allowed on Yonge Street, just as so many other parades and festivals are even today. Just two weeks ago a large part of Yonge was blocked off for an entire weekend for the Scotiabank BuskerFest.
But we had to leave.
That is when the parade was moved to University Avenue.
University Avenue was nice, though. The width and openness of the street allowed for the ease of movement for both the bands and the huge (and growing) crowds.
But it was nice for another reason. It was the best place to ‘hook up’ with friends and family.
For example, we would arrange to meet on the northwest corner of Dundas and University. Even in those large crowds that was not too hard to do. Or at the southeast corner of Queen and University. It was so easy especially for out-of-town friends, which back then mostly meant folks from the U.S.
Then came the decision to move the festival to Lakeshore Avenue. At first, there was some concern. Apart from the fact that some felt transportation would be a problem since we had become used to the ease of access to the subway running under University, many felt that our carnival was being unfairly pushed away from the downtown.
Then, too, the most important of all; how would we ‘hook up’? Some suggested that some kind of markers could have been erected along the route, so we could find each other. It was that important.
But the first year on the Lakeshore changed a lot of hearts and minds. It was a beautiful day and the lake drew us in. It was not the Caribbean Sea that we were used to, but it was close if we closed our eyes and wished hard enough.
It was not unusual to see someone leave the crowd watching mas’ and drift slowly down to the lakeside with a roti and soft drink in hand to relax and, maybe, to daydream a little.
That is how we fell in love with the Lakeshore.
Today, well, you know what is happening.
We have deep and strong memories and ties to this festival – whatever anyone wants to call it. It is ours. We know its soul. We know where it came from because we came from the same place. And as it grew up here, so did we. Or as we did, so did it.
We have nurtured it as it has nurtured us. We kept its flame burning through the good and the not so good times. We fought for it. And, we fought each other for it. But, in the end, we always knew it was ours and it was worth fighting for.
There are those who would give it up; give it away; give up on it.
But, the rest of us will fight for it because it is ours. It belongs to our community; to everyone who has ever played mas; to everyone who has ever stood at University and Queen or Dundas or College or King to behold its brilliance; to everyone who has sat by the lakefront to eat a roti or pelau; to everyone who has ever made or helped to make a costume; to everyone who has ever put his or her hand in their pockets to help keep it going; and to all our children in the generations to come who will know their history and their culture because we stood up here in this place to fight for it.
It will be Caribana again!