Colourful Cariwest parade caps hundreds of hours for volunteers

For much of the year Yoshia Phillips spends her spare time sitting at her dining room table with glue gun in hand.

Preparing for a parade takes glue, sparkles and a whole lot of time

Yoshia Phillips and Belinda Chambers work hundreds of hours preparing for Cariwest. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

For much of the year, Yoshia Phillips spends her spare time sitting at her dining room table with glue gun in hand.

Phillips, along with some friends, meticulously adds gems and feathers to bits of cloth, fashioning costumes for Edmonton's Cariwest parade.

"Everyone here is volunteering," said Phillips, a member of a masquerade, or mas, band called Next Generation which has been part of the Cariwest festival for six years.
Next Generation mas band members spend hundreds of hours preparing costumes for Edmonton's Cariwest parade. 1:48

"A lot of our band members do come by and help," she said. "We just encourage everyone to be unique so our costumes aren't all exactly the same.

"You can add your own personal touches to them … as long as you are wearing our colours."

"Without our volunteers there is no festival," says Annamaria Edwards, president of Cariwest Caribbean Arts Festival. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Next Generation member Belinda Chambers says the hundred of hours and the hard work preparing for Cariwest is worth it.

"I love the food and I love the costumes, the bigger the costume the more vibrant they are," Chambers said.

"It shows what everyone is feeling at the time because we are all happy and excited and we want to show off what we have accomplished all year long." 

These are all arts that grew out of our tradition and cultureAnnamaria Edwards, Cariwest president

Cariwest goes back to the days of slavery when French aristocrats and plantation owners would host masquerade balls prior to Lent, and slaves would mock the aristocrats and the big outfits, said festival president Annamaria Edwards.

"They had stick fighting, all of those traditions that we try to keep going," Edwards said.

Mas bands parade along Jasper Avenue during the Cariwest parade last year. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

"That is why we call our festival the Caribbean arts festival because these are all arts that grew out of our tradition and culture."

Ten mas bands are participating in this year's Cariwest parade. 

"There are various levels," Edwards said. "Some start off as T-shirt bands, wearing T-shirts dancing behind the truck and then they develop to full-out costumes and we have asked them to keep adding more and more throughout the year."

As a three-day event, Cariwest requires a lot of volunteers.

Volunteers work countless hours gluing beads to costumes. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

"Not only the people making the costumes, the whole festival is run by volunteers," Edwards said. "All through the year, it's all volunteers. We have two students that work for the summer, but other than that everything is volunteers."

"The more volunteers we have, the better the festival," she said. "And if everyone can help out for even just a few hours it makes such a big difference for the event."

Phillips said the pay off comes on parade day.

"Being tired, being there for hours and hours every weekend, it pays off when you see thousand of people enjoying the parade on Saturday," Phillips said. "That's rewarding for me."

Members of the mas band Next Generation get together in evenings and on weekends making costumes. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

The parade begins at noon on Saturday and makes its way west along Jasper Avenue from 100th Street to 107 Street where it turns south toward the legislature.

You can see a whole lot more about the Cariwest festival and other stories this weekend on Our Edmonton with Adrienne Lamb, Saturday at 10 a.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.