Ontario Steelpan Association keeping ‘Pan Alive’ for 20 years

By Ian Jones

Ian Jones

The Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA) was formally launched on June 26, 2003 at the Rotunda of the Scarborough Civic Centre in the presence of several representatives of the Toronto Steelpan Community – the Consul General for Trinidad & Tobago, Vernetta Calvin-Smith; Councillor Joe Mihevc (The Mayor’s Office); Keith Byer, Vice President, Pan Trinbago – Trinidad & Tobago; Monica Pollard, Caribbean Cultural Committee; Dr. David Trotman, Professor of Caribbean Studies at York University, and Mr. Tom Sosa, Vice President of Ryerson University. Dr. Ellie Mannette was the Guest of Honour.

The first leg of the 21- month relay leading up to this launch was run on September 11, 2001 when Patrick Arnold, President of Pan Trinbago met with a group of 17 Toronto steelpan representatives to discuss the fragmented state of their pan movement in which some steellbands were members of Pan Trinbago Canada or Pan Alliance, and some Independent. Out of this meeting came a Steering Committee (SC) which, in two months, presented a Draft Strategic Plan aimed at seeking input from the pan community throughout Canada; generating a list of benefits that might accrue to members of the newly constituted representative body; and developing for a new organization, objectives that can be used in an application for incorporation as a non-profit corporation in Ontario.

The enthusiasm of the SC was dampened in January 2002 after it received neither an acknowledgement nor a response from Pan Trinbago Trinidad to its concern that producing the World Steelband Music Festival every 2 instead of every 4 years may be economically and artistically challenging; and that the Test Piece and the Calypso presentation should be maintained. After a period of inactivity, Tommy Crichlow and a few friends approached Vernetta Calvin-Smith, Consul General for the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago in Toronto, “to establish what assistance the Consulate could offer in the further development of steelpan in Toronto”.

Joy lapps

Out of this meeting came the decision to complete the considerable work started by the previous SC towards building a unified Steel Pan body in Toronto. It was this newly constituted group that agreed on the name Ontario Steelpan Association, its Mission Statement and the application for registration of a non-profit organization in Ontario with a Head Office at TT Consulate in Toronto. The Consul-General offered the secretarial support of two of her staff members, and this is the team that took the baton across the finish line on that beautiful Thursday in June 2003.  

In its twenty years, OSA has maintained a strong relationship with the administrators of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival; first with the Caribbean Cultural Committee and then the Festival Management Committee. It has been recognized by the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario as the umbrella organization to whom is entrusted the disbursement of Seed Money to all steelbands participating in the CaribanaÔ Parade. 

With the launching of OSA in 2003, Pan Alive, initially a non-competitive event, again became a joint Steelpan Community/CCC production held on Caribana™ Friday Night August 1 for the first time at Old Fort York.  The event was a success and in 2004, OSA independently produced Pan Alive for the first time at the same venue. 

OSA relocated Pan Alive to Lamport Stadium in 2005 because it offered more of the infrastructure (physical space, lighting, washroom facilities, seating and easy access by public transport) that facilitates the audience enjoyment of the event.  That year, Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars Steelband, who were on a tour of Ottawa and Toronto, performed as guest artistes much to the delight of the crowd.  In 2009, Trinidad Panorama Champions, Silver Stars Steelband did a thrilling guest performance at Pan Alive which is now a firmly established Caribana™ Friday Night tradition.

It is disappointing that OSA did not nurture its relationship with the Toronto District School Board in their presentation of Pan Fest, a festival, which brings together all of the Board’s school pan programs for a week of non-competitive performances. The TDSB had produced this event on its own since 1990.  However, the financial and human resources provided by OSA in partnership with the Tourism and Industry Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago (TIDCO) ensured that Pan Fest 2004 was staged and helped the organization to demonstrate its commitment to reach out to the younger generation, especially those in the education system. The then Board of Directors accurately identified this initiative as important outreach to youth whose active participation was critical to the growth and development of the pan movement. Unfortunately, this initiative was not maintained.

Another disappointment was the unwillingness of member steelbands to participate in a Caribana™ Jour Ouvert in 2012. That would have been a great initiative for the pan movement in Toronto, but many member steelbands felt it would be too demanding after the Friday night Pan Alive. Just imagine a “pan only” Jouvay chippin’ through the CNE at 6:00a.m. on Caribana™ morning with the light Lake Ontario breeze wafting the music to ears of residents in South Parkdale!     

OSA’s successes have been accomplished through the efforts of its large cadre of dedicated volunteers who have given and continue to give selflessly of their time, skills and money to assist the organization towards achieving its Mission “to promote excellence in all facets of steelpan in Canada, by providing open, accountable leadership in all matters related to the recognition, growth and development of the steelpan and the steelpan community; and to do so with absolute respect and trust”. Heartfelt thanks to all those individuals who are still with us.  And to those who have transitioned to another place, may they continue to dance with the angels.

As it begins its 21st year OSA must be mindful to broaden its membership base in order to ensure effective succession planning. The Founders named the organization Ontario Steelpan (not Steelband) Association to ensure that membership was open to individuals thereby facilitating the broadest access to the Arts Administration skills necessary for the success of cultural entities. The current leadership must embrace this concept and encourage “non-pan players” to assist in making OSA and pan more relevant to the wider society.