Will there be a Toronto Caribbean Carnival this year?



No answers in this time of crisis

By Stephen Weir

Veteran band leader Louis Saldenah (left) & FMC’s COO, Christopher Alexander

What the Toronto mas’ camps,  steelbands and the Festival Management Committee (FMC) need right now is ” the right crystal ball “- one that can provide a definite  answer to the burning question: Will there be a Toronto Caribbean Carnival this year ?

A simple yes or no in answer to that question will have a major impact on the Caribbean-Canadian mas’ playing community, Toronto’s tourism industry and the economy of the City of Toronto.

But so far mas’ makers have not found ” the right crystal ball.”

“We have to know the status of the festival,” Hayden Harbin of the Mas’ K Club told the Caribbean Camera  last week..

“To date we have already invested large sums of money in our preparation leading up to our band launch. We have to know if it’s going to be on, if we are going to continue to put out more money for its  completion  – or if  it will be cancelled, so we can halt and send out a public notice to all our local- and foreign-based players” Over the last week, The  Caribbean  Caribbean contacted Toronto City Councillor Michael Thompson, five bandleaders, the leader of a steelband and others directly involved in the carnival business

Tribal Carnival

This reporter has also contacted the Federal Government,  the Government of Ontario and the overseers of the carnival, the Festival Management Committee. (FMC),. They were all asked: Will there be a parade in 2020 ?

Bandleader Louis Saldena, Harbin’s partner , wants answers too. They both have

the largest band (5,000) on the road each year. A Saldenah launch is a big event.

It attracts more than  1,000 ticket buyers and generates thousands of follow-on orders for new costumes.

“I am going to get together with my group on the 10th of April and we will decide what approach to take,if the parade is still on,” Saldenah told The  Caribbean Camera . “ I strongly believe the safety of the people is priority Number One.”

“ With the Canadian border being closed and the uncertainty of when it will be re-opened, w will need to set a new date for our launch,” said Akil HeywoodChairman of the Atlantic mas ‘ camp.

Atlantic Mas’ annually brings in top soca performers  for their spring costume launch at the huge Rebel nightclub. Atlantic had planned a massive April 3 launch party with Trinidad stars Bunji Garlin and Fayann Lyons as headliers.

Jerrol Augustine EPIC Mas, Dexter Seusahai Tribal Carnival Aneil Persad & Hayden Joseph Venom Carnival Louis Saldenah, Saldenah Carnival

“ But with Rebel closing its doors due to the government’s cap of a maximum of 50 people at gatherings,, the April 3rd launch cannot happen,” he  explained.

“So a new date for this show will be announced,” he said.

“Be sure that we take safety first. And we have an amazing event waiting for the Carnival community as soon as this crisis passes. We will make sure to give everyone something that will bring back energy to the Carnival.  Stay tuned for the new date.”

For Tribal Carnival’s Celena Seusahai, the shutdown of  services and events in Ontario is a case of  “déjà vu all over again.”

She has just returned from the Cayman Islands where Tribal’s popular island costume launch was cancelled when the British government suddenly postponed Cayman’s Batabano festival and parade until sometime in the fall.

Tribal has been planning a Toronto launch at the end of next month.

Carnival

“We are still   considering  what to do but  we definitely will not be having a physical band launch on April 24th.,” Seusahi said Tribal Carnival is reportedly considering holding a virtual  band launch (A  virtual band launch is basically a costume fashion show that is staged without a live audience; instead, carnival fans  will watch the show on their computers, laptops and smart phones.) SunLime is ahead of the curve in terms of staging a virtual launch. The  band was getting ready for a photo shoot in downtown Toronto for its online show.

But its plans have changed somewhat since it first announced the online presentation.

The show will not be recorded live but will use the footage and photographs filmed on Sunday on their closed set.

“Due to the current situation and the uncertainty as to what will transpires in the upcoming weeks and months, the Sunlime's Executive has decided to forgo the live virtual launch,” explained Dwayne Gunness.

“We have move to a taped virtual launch in order to comply with new Health virus guidelines.”

“Sunlime is proceeding with our costume Reveal with optimism. However it should be noted that even before the Reveal date (March 29th) the dynamics of the virus pandemic could change and we might end up in a situation where we may not be able to proceed. A t this point we hope that everyone stays safe and heeds Government recommendation”.

It is not just mas’ bands that are in a holding pattern when it comes to planning for the 2020 Carnival. Pan orchestras are in limbo in terms of opening pan yards and preparing for the July 31st Pan Alive Competition slated for Lamport Stadium.

“ We are still a little early yet for Carnival in terms of opening the Pan Yard, but already things are beginning to fall out,” said Pan Fantasy’s Wendy Jones. “Other pan events are already impacted.”

“The Pan Arts Network was  supposed to hold the 9th annual “Gospel Praise on Steel” at Scarborough’s Kingdom Ministries next month. But this event has been  cancelled.

Is Carnival a go or no go? Like almost everyone that The Caribbean Camera spoke with this week,  Jones said they are “awaiting direction” from the FMC.

Carnival

The FMC runs the parade and communicates directly with the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the Federal Government. The three levels of Government are basically the sole funders of the annual event and have the power of turning off the money spigot at anytime; ending the 2020 carnival before it really begins.

Jamaica-born Councilor Michael Thompson is “well aware of the challenges ” the virus is having upon the Carnival.

“There are no answers as yet in terms of whether Carnival will happen this year, or not, “ Thompson said.

 “I think what is most helpful is to tell the folks that they should wait and see a little longer. Wait till the end of the first week in April to better understand what is happening (in terms of the success of the city’s

response to the virus pandemic).”

“ It is up to the members of the FMC and by then should know if they can safely put on some sort of Festival this year,” said Thompson.

The Scarborough councilor said that the Mayor og Toro to and Premier Doug Ford are strong supporters of the annual fete and believe strongly it should continue unless it is decided that the public’s health will be put at risk if the August 1st Grand Parade happens.

 Thompson is already part of a new planning team that is looking at what the city will do to recover once the virus has been reined in.

He said if the 2020 festival is postponed, there will be a place for carnival in some possible future tourism/cultural recovery events for the city.

“ Right now the FMC has access to all our Health data and our best guesses for the summer,” he said “but it is up to the festival itself to decide where it is going this year. “

As for the FMC, when contacted by email, Chief Operating Officer Chris Alexander did not answer The  Caribbean Camera’s questions. He did though ,refer the paper to a statement the organization has posted on Instagram and Facebook.

“We are closely monitoring the developments of the COVID-19 virus and preparing for all scenarios,” says the statement. “With guidance from public health authorities at all levels of government we will work with our bandleaders and other stakeholders to ensure our preparedness and response measures are appropriate and adaptable. Thank you for your continued support, Toronto Caribbean Carnival.”