Caribana Arts Group plans carnival to embrace ‘people for all the islands ‘

By Lincoln DePradine

Dr Maurice Bygrave, CAG chairperson Monica Poillard and Tony Ishmael.

The Caribana Arts Group (CAG) – formerly known as the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) which organized and ran Caribana –announced on Sunday that  it  plans to put on a ” Caribbean carnival ” next year in Toronto.

“We are planning, in 2018, to create another important platform – a stage, if you like – to present a Caribbean carnival to embrace all the people from all the islands, where carnivals are celebrated annually. I ask you to come join with us next year as we make a joyful noise unto the Lord in the spirit of unity,’’ said CAG chair Monica Pollard.

Many Caribana founders

She was speaking at a special service, at the Caribbean Catholic Church & Centre on College Street in Toronto, to mark this year’s 50th anniversary of the festival that was founded in 1967 as Caribana.

Many Caribana founders, former chairpersons and long-serving members, as well as veteran supporters, such as former Metro Councillor Bev Salmon, attended the service.

CAG/CCC has the copyright to the name, “Caribana’’. However, it lost control of the festival in 2006, amidst reports of infighting and allegations of mismanagement. The City of Toronto withdrew funding and placed its support behind a new entity known as the Festival Management Committee (FMC), which has run the carnival for the past decade.

“The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, as it (the festival) is now called, is owned and managed by a small clique, which calls itself the FMC, with the blessings of the City of Toronto. You and I have no say in the actual running of that organization,’’ Pollard, a Trinidadian-Canadian, told the congregation.

CAG tried “very seriously’’ this year to reach a rapprochement with the city and the FMC, but not much progress was made, Pollard said in an interview after the church service.

“We really thought, for 50 years this year, that this organization would have had some kind of unification with the current personnel that runs and stages the festival, both from the city’s perspective as well as from the FMC’s perspective,’’ she added. “It did not seem that anything we wanted to negotiate was negotiable,” she told the Caribbean Camera.

By 2009, according to a Ryerson University study, the carnival in Toronto was injecting more than $438-million into the local economy.

The festival’s revenue-generating ability was noted by Caribana founding-member, Jamaica-born dentist Dr Maurice Bygrave, who also spoke at Sunday’s service.

“This festival has grown exponentially, in terms of visitors attracted and revenue generated. However, there is little evidence of its impact in our community,’’ he said.

Bygrave reiterated a call, he said he had made earlier this year, for all levels of government and the business sector, which have enjoyed the profits of the carnival for 49 years, to return something to the community.

“These profits,’’ he pointed out, “were obtained from the labour of those who made it possible. Therefore, in this jubilee year, there should be enough to provide merriment, freedom and celebration.’’

Another speaker at the service was Tony Ishmael, a St. Lucia-born award-winning costume designer and maker, who is well-known in the carnival communities in Toronto and Trinidad. He, too, was among the founders of Caribana in 1967, and later pioneered the introduction of the Children’s Carnival as part of the festival.

“At this moment, I may be a little emotional; I am thinking of [the late] Peter Marcelline and Pat Shepperd and a host of guys who I have seen and worked with on the Caribana committee,’’ he said. “In those days the committee was made up of representatives from every Caribbean island.’’

Ishmael offered special commendation to former Toronto city councilor Salmon, describing her as “a very special lady’’, and invited her to stand. Salmon, he said, “did so much for the Caribbean community through Caribana’’.