Mas in ‘67 still jumping 55 years later


In 1967, the population of the Caribbean Community in Toronto just broke the 12,000 mark. And in that year, the year Canada became 100 years young, a handful of that community, with a budget of $50,000, launched what turned out to be the first Caribana parade. It was the Caribbean community’s contribution to Canada’s centenary birthday party. It was a great time to be in Canada.

Reports of the event said that a few floats with music and costumed revelers formed up at Varsity Stadium, headed down University Avenue, stopped at City Hall and was welcomed by Mayor William Dennison; they then proceeded to the waterfront, and ferried across to Centre Island. 50,000 partiers and masqueraders gathered as the day wore on.

Centre Island, we’re told, was festooned with Caribbean-themed decorations including – get this – 12 real, live coconut trees representing countries of the Caribbean. Yes, these Caribbean folks really had these trees sent from “home!” Can you imagine what was going on in the minds of those who witnessed it, themselves newcomers to a country that was, in historical terms, in its youth? Aye, these West Indians not easy, oui!

Now, here we are in 2022, and the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (nee Caribana) has not miss a beat. Even during the two-year shutdown, Carnival went virtual. Pan recitals, Kaiso performances, masqueraders were Zooming all over the place. The string remained unbroken to bring us to 55 years of Carnival in a couple weeks.

And how have we changed and grown! From a fete in 1967 that attracted about 50,000 people to a full-fledged Carnival with a budget of over $1M, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, fattening the city by over $400m. And all this from the imagination of people belonging to one of the smallest communities in Canada, and from countries that are truly dots on the map.

Better described as a Festival, the Carnival, for weeks before the curtains open, hums with creative activity in warehouses around town “building mas” – the Caribbean community summer version of Santa’s workshop. Calypso singers setting down music and tuning their pipes, steelpans sending out waves of sounds across the community. Beauty being created in the warehouses while joyful noises take wing. Not a bad time to be in Toronto. Not a bad time to be a Caribbean.

This could not have come at a better time after two years of loneliness and stress. So, just to come out and watch, sniff the free air, and to be awakened by Carnival will be the tonic we all need after a long sleep.

And while the pulse of the Carnival frees up our creaky bones, we must remember the home sick folk who dared to run a mas down to the Lake in 1967.  


“Mama, when they hear they go get the carnival

All masqueraders on heat”


Lord Kitchener