Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival a spectacle of rhythms, costumes

Close to a million people were expected to pack the parade route for drumming and dancing of the Caribbean Carnival grand parade on Saturday in Toronto.

Festival CEO says federal government's lack of funding for cultural event 'disappointing'

Close to a million people were expected to pack the parade route for drumming and dancing of the Caribbean Carnival grand parade on Saturday in Toronto.

The 46th annual three-week carnival brings together the colours and rhythms of the Caribbean with the parade spectacle as its premiere event.

"All of the Caribbean are supposed to be down there," said Wenell Lampell Scott, who was looking forward to the steady stream of musical talent.

Festival CEO Christopher Alexander told CBC News there would be upwards of 15,000 musicians participating in the parade and thousands more people dressed up in colourful costumes.

"We're hoping it is going to be the biggest and the best," said Alexander, noting that organizers made the 3.5 kilometre route down Lake Shore Boulevard a full kilometre longer this year.

The CBC's Charlsie Agro said there were dozens of steelpan bands, and flat-bed trucks packed full of speakers blasting Soca music.

Sheree Long and Mark Williams make the trip from Detroit to Toronto every year to see the bejeweled masqueraders.

"We can never have enough of the Caribbean food, and you know the culture and the festivities," Long said. "The parade is awesome every year and all the floats – it's beautiful."

A Caribbean Carnival queen in training participates in the parade on Saturday. (Charlsie Agro/CBC)

Last year Ontario's economy got a $480 million boost to the economy as a result of the carnival —considered one of the largest in North America.

On Saturday morning Premier Kathleen Wynne and newly elected Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the parade.

"[The parade] really is indicative of our strength, our diversity, the beauty of this city, and people coming out to celebrate together," said Wynne.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was also scheduled to attend but did not appear at the parade kick-off.  Ford was however spotted later in the day along the parade route.

"What an amazing event! Always a pleasure attending," he tweeted Saturday afternoon.

Federal funding

Alexander said the funding that the festival receives from the provincial and municipal government is "great" but was critical of Ottawa for not supporting a marquee event that contributes to the Canadian economy.

Organizers had applied for funding but it was too small so "it was costing us more to just be able to get the funding then to use the funding," he said, calling the decline in financial support from the federal government over the past few years "disappointing."

A group of bejeweled women wearing feathered masquerade headresses pose for photographs along the parade route. (Charlsie Agro/CBC)

"I think it's an investment, it's not so much that we're asking for a handout, we're asking them to invest in the festival [and] invest in what's happening here right now."

Still, a throng of volunteers and loyal sponsors contribute to the festival's success year after year.

"This festival is going to go on and on — it's part of everything," Alexander said. "It's going to be here beyond us."