The lakeshore will be full of colour and good vibes this weekend as the iconic Toronto Caribbean Carnival is set to return after a three-year absence because of COVID-19.
Music, food, dancing, and, of course, beautiful costumes will be at the forefront of this cultural soirée.
The carnival is the biggest expression and celebration of Caribbean culture in North America, says Toronto Caribbean Carnival chairperson Laverne Garcia.
Garcia notes that Trinidad and Tobago host the largest Carnival celebrations, but the island nation is not considered part of North America.
Headlining events start Thursday evening with the King and Queen showcase at Lamport Stadium in Liberty Village.
The showcase will have Caribbean food and drink vendors, art, and activities, but the main event will be a showcase of the 20 feet high and ten feet wide King and Queen costumes, said Garcia.
The next event is Pan Alive on Friday evening, showcasing the best steel pan performers Toronto has to offer.
And Saturday is the marquee event, the Grand Parade. Celebrating its 55 years of running is adding to the excitement of the parade, Garcia said.
The parade will run through the Toronto Exhibition grounds and along Lake Shore Boulevard West near Princes’ Gates starting at noon Saturday. The children’s parade was held on July 16 where about 2,000 children wore Carnival costumes.
“After (missing) three years and not being able to celebrate our culture, it’s awesome to be able to come together again,” Garcia said. “People just appreciate it so much more now.”
As Caribbean culture evolves, so does Carnival, Garcia said.
“Carnival natural evolves rooted in Caribbean culture as other people are there to enjoy. It is about freedom, diversity, and inclusion,” he said.
The weekend-long event is tailored for everyone to enjoy, as always, watching the parade along Lake Shore is free.
“Carnival in Canada is a gift from the Caribbean community to the overall Canadian community,” Garcia said. “Just as the Caribbean is so diverse, so is Toronto. It is for everybody.”
The theme of this year’s celebration is “embrace the carnival in you,” she said. Whether people are returning to carnival or coming for the first time, the experience will make them fall in love with the culture and celebration.
“Carnival has been happening for 55 years in Toronto. It’s very much a part of people’s culture now,” Garcia said.
Garcia tells the story of how an older Italian woman was in tears, telling Garcia how excited she was that carnival was returning, showing how much this event meant to the broader community of Toronto.
Garcia was a young child in Vancouver hearing about Carnival and dreamt of attending but was still feeling comfortable that there was a massive celebration of her culture. It wasn’t until around 2000 that she got her first opportunity to attend, she said, but it lived up to expectations.
The beauty of the Carnival is the ability to “embrace our culture and show our children,” Garcia said. “Culture makes you who you are.”