For someone who has never had a steady paid full-time job, septuagenarian Julius Sylvester (Tommy) Crichlow is very happy and contented.
Most of his life has been dedicated to the steelpan – the only acoustic instrument developed in the 20th century – ever since age 11 when he saw an all-girls steelpan outfit, Girl Pat, perform live on stage in his native Trinidad & Tobago.
Encouraged by the girls’ teacher (Miss Henley), Crichlow started playing pan with the Samba Boys – an offshoot of the steelband, Tripoli – before joining Silver Stars with whom he spent a dozen years. In 1966, Crichlow returned to Tripoli as an arranger and guided the band to a third place Panorama finish.
The following year, he came to Canada for the first time as a tuner/arranger for Esso Tripoli, which performed at Montreal’s International & Universal Exposition.
With a huge demand for his arranging skills, Crichlow worked for several bands, including Scrunter’s Pan Groove and that association paved the way for him to return to Canada with the group for a 1988 tour.
Fed up with driving a taxi part-time in T & T while trying to make ends meet, Crichlow remained in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and enrolled in George Brown College’s tool and die program to enhance his pan-making skills. He also formed Pan Masters and in 1989 landed a gig in France to introduce steel pan music to young people and share his skills.
When he was not in France – he no longer makes the annual European trek because of health challenges – or in T & T attending Carnival, Crichlow is in his Scarborough home making and tuning pans and teaching young people how to play pan, most of the time, for free.
“Tommy is unique,” said veteran pannist, Ian Jones. “He’s one of the very few people in Canada who manufacture, tune, arrange and play plan. He’s a very special person and his impact is significant.”
Crichlow was recognized for his excellence and vast contributions to the pan industry at the sixth annual Carnival gala at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex last Friday night.
“I don’t do these things for awards,” said Crichlow, who suffered a heart attack last October and is now outfitted with a cardiac pacemaker. “Pan has always been part of my life and it keeps me sound. I have been given a second chance at life and I intend to use it fully which means doing the things I have been doing all the years except now it has to be at a bit of a slower pace. I am still in the pan yard. I will be on the road with the young people on Caribana Saturday.”
The Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA), which Crichlow and his wife of 18 years – Christabelle – co-founded, nominated him for the award.
Each year, the Carnival stakeholders – the OSA, the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) and the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA) are invited to nominate deserving individuals.
Sam Lewis, who once served as chairman and vice-chairman of the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) which produced the annual event for 38 years before the City of Toronto installed the FMC to run the show seven years ago, was nominated by the FMC, with whom he worked for the last four years as general manager responsible for operations.
“Although I am the one receiving this honour, there are countless others out there who have done a lot to promote this festival and keep it alive,” said Lewis, who is on the National Carnival Bands Association route management committee and the National Carnival Commission operations & infrastructure committee in T & T. “I have done enough in a leadership role for the festival in Toronto and I now intend to consult and help out wherever possible.”
Lewis, who splits his time between T & T and the GTA, was a parade marshal prior to being elected CCC chair in 1991 and then vice-chair the following year.
A T & T police officer for a decade, the 73-year-old married father of five children worked with the Ontario Ministry of Health for three years and the Attorney General’s office before retiring in 1995 as manager of the anti-racism unit in the Ministry’s corporate service’s division.
Roger Gibbs was OCPA’s choice this year. The Barbadian-born singer, guitarist, composer, arranger and recording artist’s contributions to the local cultural landscape are noteworthy.
“Roger’s contributions to the development of calypso in Canada over the years have been huge in terms of successfully advocating for the use of live music, seeking out alternative sources of funding and also showcasing our local calypso talent to mainstream stages and audiences,” said raconteur and calypsonian, Dick Lochan. “He’s one of the most creative people I have ever met.”
The lead singer with the popular Bajan calypso band, The Sandpebbles, Gibbs studied music theory through the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music and was the head music programmer for Carifesta 1981 in Barbados prior to moving to Canada five years later.
Over the years, he has served on many arts boards and committees, co-produced the first two “Barbados on the Water” summer festivals at Harbourfront Centre and conducted Caribbean drumming and guitar classes at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.
Veteran T & T-born designer, Walter Elliott, who also lived in St. Vincent & the Grenadines for a few years in the 1980s, was recognized for his wire-bending and mas-making skills.
A member of a dance troupe that performed at Expo’ 67 in Montreal, Elliott was a founding member of that city’s Black Theatre Workshop and a graduate of the Academy of Arts & Design.
The award-winning designer has produced costumes for several bands, including Toronto Caribbean Connection, Tribal Knights, Toronto Revellers, Louis Saldenah Mas-K Club and Black Sage Carnival.
“He’s a consummate professional,” said his daughter Nneka – a CP24 reporter/anchor – who along with her brother Jabari – an urban expressionist – received the award on behalf of their father, who designed costumes for five bands this year before going on vacation. “He’s a lover of traditional mas’. On any given Sunday, you can catch him watching old carnival tapes from T & T, St. Vincent & the Grenadines or even Brazil, always looking for inspiration and always searching for a way to merge the carnival of yesteryear with today’s mas’.”
Valerie Seales was the recipient of the Kathy Searles Memorial Award for volunteerism.
Born in T & T, she spent five years in England studying midwifery before coming to Toronto 42 years ago.
Following 38 years’ service at Toronto Western Hospital as a ward clerk and ophthalmology administrator, Seales has been an active volunteer in mas’ camps and with the FMC.
Searles, who died in December 2008, made an extensive and continuous contribution to Toronto’s carnival from its inception in 1967 when she served on the Caribbean Centennial Committee board up until five years ago when she made her last parade appearance.