Toronto Caribbean Carnival kicks off with a blazing-hot launch

Stephen Weir

Jennifer Hirlehey, Mayor Olivia Chow and Mischka Crichton Photos by Gilbert Medina

Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square came alive on a scorching hot day as the 56th Caribbean Carnival was officially launched on Tuesday. The vibrant atmosphere was filled with excitement as approximately 2,000 enthusiastic audience members gathered to celebrate the rich Caribbean culture. The event took place at Toronto City Hall, where a jam-packed list of speakers and performers graced the outdoor stage.

The ceremony was hosted by CTV Nathan Downer and CP24’s Jessica Smith, who successfully wrangled the line-up of speakers. Among them was Jennifer Hirlehey, the new Chair of the Festival Management Committee, who kicked off the proceedings with an extensive review of the exciting changes and improvements for this year’s festival. “We pride ourselves in creating a welcoming, safe environment for this shared celebration of Caribbean culture,” Hirlehey expressed.

Taking the stage next was Mischka Crichton, the Festival Management Committee CEO and a lifelong masquerader. Dancing her way into the spotlight, Crichton emphasized the tireless efforts of the committee in revamping the festival to provide an outstanding experience for attendees. She highlighted the importance of acceptance and inclusion, which resonated with this year’s theme: “Diversity and Culture Live Here!”

Former TV star and current Federal liberal MP, Marci Ien delivered an uplifting speech that had the audience waving their Caribbean flags in support of the government’s commitment to the parade. Other notable politicians, including MPP Charmaine Williams (Brampton Centre) and Mayor Olivia Chow, shared their excitement and

From left Michael Thompson, Charmaine Williams, Marci Ien and Keyanna Bell

support for the event.

In a departure from previous years, the Toronto Police chief was notably absent from the launch event, with only Black auxiliary officers seen near the stage. The Festival Management Committee has sought emergency funding from the Federal Government to cover increased security and insurance costs.

Nevertheless, the event showcased the support of several sponsors, including Scarborough Town Centre, Exhibition Place, Ontario Science Centre, Metrolinx, and many more. One notable partnership that stole the spotlight was with Spotify, the world’s most popular audio-streaming subscription service. Spotify unveiled its official partnership with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, under the banner of “Carnival Sounds.” This collaboration aims to recognize and celebrate the profound influence of Caribbean culture in Canada by showcasing the sounds of Reggae, Dancehall, Soca, and more while amplifying the voices and stories of Caribbean artists, DJs, and creators.

As the politicians and sponsors exited the stage, the true essence of carnival erupted with mas players, Calypso singer King Cosmos, and DJ performances that delighted the crowd.  The energy was contagious, and the audience reveled in the mesmerizing costumes and pulsating rhythms that define the spirit of a Caribbean carnival including the New Dimensions Steel Orchestra, Tassa, and Pan ‘round the neck with Panman Pat.

Mas in TO

Amidst the festivities, Grace Foods, a carnival sponsor, had an “escape the heat” tent dedicated to seniors, offering them free Grace drinks and food.

With the Toronto Caribbean Carnival officially launched and the city eagerly anticipating the upcoming parade, the stage is set for a jubilant celebration of Caribbean culture and a testament to the enduring spirit of unity and inclusivity.