Belleville Caribbean Festival expects a bigger carnival this summer

Madame Wob Dwiyet

Last year Belleville Caribbean Festival attracted over 7,000 and, with the help of Jennifer Hirlehey the Chair of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, his summer could bring even more participants in mas bands and more visitors to the city.

Jennifer Hirlehey, moved to Belleville last April and heard about Belleville’s first ever Caribbean festival.  She headed to the Downtown District to check it out.

“It was lovely, the music and dancing, the smell of jerk chicken in the air, and you could tell that everyone involved was having a really good time.  And I thought to myself, I have the skills, I have the contacts, and I should bond here, I have lots of family in the area and I thought I wanted to get involved.”

Hirlehey has some ideas on how to grow Belleville’s festival with the main one being that it continue to be held as a stand-alone event, separate from the annual July Belleville Waterfront and Multicultural Festival.

“I think there could be and should be more of a Caribbean presence at the multicultural festival but for the festival (Caribbean) to grow and to have the kind of economic impact that it has in Toronto, it has to be a stand-alone event and we’ve agreed to do that.  And to grow we have go out and get sponsors so we can bring in really good bands and artists and to do that we need money.  So we’re going to try and attract sponsors and hopefully some from Toronto as well.”

Hirlehey also believes that while Zwick’s Park is a beautiful setting for community events, Belleville’s Caribbean Festival should remain right where it started, in the Downtown District.

Jennifer Hirlehey

“The carnival is a street festival.  If you want to grow it into a parade, as it is in Toronto, it has to be a parade through the streets.  And the economic impact of having the parade go through the downtown streets is amazing.  In Toronto the spinoffs are estimated at half a billion dollars.  If we can grow the festival to be just one-tenth of that it would be $50 million.  A festival with a parade has to be on the streets and the economic impact could be amazing.  It could really help revitalize the downtown core.”

Hirlehey says that obviously most of the Caribbean community in the province is in the greater Toronto area but Belleville is growing and there’s already close contact between the local and Toronto communities through family and association.  “We want a nice mix in the festival between the Belleville and Toronto communities.  I’m already talking to my contacts in Toronto and I don’t want to make any announcements before contracts are signed but I think we have an opportunity to bring down some really good entertainers for the festival here.”

The Belleville Caribbean Festival is scheduled for Saturday August 19.  The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, which Hirlehey continues to lead, runs for about a month from mid-July to mid-August, attracting tens of thousands of people to the events.  Its Grand Parade is August 5.