Reunited & it feels so good: Travellers return to Toronto for Caribbean Carnival weekend

Toronto's Caribbean Carnival returns to in-person events after two years, with the Grande Parade taking place on Saturday.

'Everyone should come experience it'

La Toya Knights pictured at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival in 2019. She says she's excited to return to the tradition of playing Mas. (Submitted by La Toya Knights)

For La Toya Knights, coming to Toronto for the Caribbean Carnival is a homecoming. 

"I missed it, it's definitely a highlight of my year," she says.  

The mother of two is originally from the city, but has lived in Atlanta for 18 years. She's returning after a three-year hiatus due to COVID, reuniting with family and friends and playing Mas, when she will be dressed in costume and dancing in the Grande Parade on Saturday. 

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Grande Parade is celebrating its 55th anniversary, and will be taking over Lakeshore Boulevard and the Exhibition grounds. According to the event's website, "the Caribbean tradition of parading through the street was founded in celebration of freedom and emancipation from slavery."

Several events will also be hosted across the city all weekend.

Knights says she's traveled to other places to participate in Carnival including Trinidad, but says Carnival in Toronto is the best she's ever experienced. 

"Anyone I've talked to outside of Toronto, anyone I've talked to in the States, if they've had exposure to [Carnival], they always say it was the best time," she says.

A participant in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s King and Queen Showcase at Lamport Stadium on Thursday. (Sabah Rahman/CBC)

She says travelling to Toronto is not just about participating in the parade, but also sharing the experience with her children. 

"I bring my kids and I introduce them to my Caribbean heritage and culture and try to educate them on what it's about so they can take on these traditions," she says.

"Everyone should come experience it. It's one of the best carnivals in the world and it's just a great showcase of the full Caribbean experience and culture."

Favourite part is 'being in the mix': DJ

Tarik Thompson— also known as DJ Jazzy T— has made it a point to travel to Carnival every other year to take in the festivities and reconnect with Canadian family members. 

Thompson says he splits his time between Miami and Jamaica, and Toronto's Caribbean Carnival is always an event he looks forward to attending. 

"I'm really excited to see what it's going to be like for the first time after COVID," he says. 

Tarik Thompson, also known as DJ Jazzy T, performing a set in Miami in November 2019. Thompson says he used to frequent Toronto Caribbean Carnival prior to COVID. He says this is his first time back in the city since the pandemic. (Submitted by Tarik Thompson)

Thompson will be spinning a set on Saturday night at the Sheraton hotel on Queen Street W. as part of the Carnival lineup. 

"My favourite part was always being in the mix, with mixed cultures and seeing everybody come together," he says.

"You have a whole year of people going to work, going to school...there's a lot of stress in the world. When you have something like [Carnival], when you have days of events, its very important to unwind. That's the word we Caribbean people use, unwind. Enjoy yourself and don't think about those things."

Carnival 'a catalyst' for Toronto tourism

Carnival is considered one of the "signature events for Toronto," according to Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of destination development at Destination Toronto. 

"Events like this are some of the most important assets, a community or a destination has, which is these world famous events that people travel for," he says. "Carnival [is] so well-established and so well known in communities around the world that people do travel."

Andrew Weir is the Executive Vice President of Destination Development at Destination Toronto. He says Carnival is one of the most important events for Toronto's tourism industry. (Submitted by Kathy Motton)

"And when you have something as celebratory as Carnival, I think it'll really bring out thousands and thousands of people."

Despite Carnival being a draw for international travellers, Weir says he expects international numbers won't be as high this year as they've seen in the past, as the city's tourism industry takes time to return to pre-pandemic levels.  

"The majority of the events right now are being enjoyed by residents of Toronto, southern Ontario," he says. "The international markets, we do need those visitors to come back as well, but I'm confident that that they will over time."

"You need your return customers to come back," he says. "Those visitors that have been here many times before are important, not only because of the business they bring when they travel themselves, but they also help stimulate new demand and that's so important for a destination."


Kirthana Sasitharan is a journalist with CBC Toronto. She has spent her time travelling Ontario, telling stories in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Hamilton. She previously worked as a business reporter in Vancouver and Ottawa. She is passionate about stories related to women's and labour issues, culture and identity. You can reach her on Twitter @KirthanaSasitha.