51st Toronto Caribbean Carnival kicks off at Nathan Phillips Square

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival kicked off its 51st year in grand style at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday with plans to ramp things up for 2018.

The event is Canada's biggest cultural celebration, organizers say

Toronto Caribbean Carnival launched its 51st festival in grand style at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival kicked off its 51st year in grand style at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday with plans to ramp things up for 2018.

"This year is the year of experience. We're trying to get people to experience the festival more," Chris Alexander, chief administrative officer for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Festival Management Committee, told CBC Toronto. 
Chris Alexander, the chief administrative officer for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Festival Management Committee, says the event is 'trying to get people to experience the festival more.' (Grant Linton/CBC)

And there will be plenty of opportunities to do so as the festival has a number of big events planned for the following weeks, including the Junior Carnival King and Queen Showcase on Sunday, Calypso Showcase on July 29 and the Grand Parade on Aug. 4. 

"Every year we welcome hundreds of thousands of people from across North America to Toronto in celebration of Caribbean heritage," Denise Herrera Jackson, CEO of the Festival Management Committee, said in a media release.
Toronto Caribbean Carnival is the largest outdoor festival in North America, organizers say. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"As the largest outdoor festival in North America we know how to have a good time and encourage people both near and far to join the fun."

That fun included its official launch on Tuesday where the Toronto Mas Bands Association, the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists and the Ontario Steelpan Association brought the sights and sounds of the islands to the city.
The Caribbean Festival is an all-ages event that celebrates the culture of the islands in Toronto and runs for several weeks. (Grant Linton/CBC)

And organizers say they're already seeing strong interest. 

"A lot of the bands are selling out costumes right now, which is a good sign that more people are planning to play mas," Alexander said. "The hotels are filling up, so obviously we know that people are coming into the city."

Valerie Williamson and Juliana Prospere were at the launch event as traditional mas character Dame Lorraine.

They say they've been representing the history of carnival for three years.
Juliana Prospere, left, and Valerie Williamson, right, were both at the launch event as traditional mas character Dame Lorraine. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"We're just trying to tell the story of carnival, the origins of carnival, to keep it fresh," Prospere said. "We want people to remember that carnival is not the feathers and swimsuits, but there's a story behind it."

Organizers say that this year's theme, "Canada's Celebration of Freedom and Diversity," was inspired by Carnival's beginnings, a celebration of freedom from the oppression of slavery.

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival has an expanded line-up this year, which includes more Caribbean-themed events, food and music. (Grant Linton/CBC)

With files from Grant Linton