For one weekend every summer, Toronto’s downtown streets are filled with demons and devils, flowers and insects—costumed, energetic dancers gyrating to the sounds of calypso and steel bands. Caribana, Toronto’s parade of people and colourful floats, is a celebration of the city’s 400,000-member Caribbean community.
The West Indian community represents more than half of Toronto’s Black population. They come from all of the 25 separate islands and countries that are washed by the Caribbean Sea, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, and Trinidad and Tobago, and mainland territories like Guyana and Belize. The population of the territories is multicultural—a mixture of British, Chinese, Dutch, East Indian, French, Lebanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Syrian, combined with a long African legacy.
While West Indians have been in Canada for generations, the first large-scale immigration began in the 1960s. Previous to the 1960s, West Indian students, largely from Trinidad, arrived to study at local universities. Other early newcomers included young women from Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados who were sponsored as domestic workers. Those with higher levels of education and work experience were hired as stenographers, bookkeepers, hairdressers, nurses, nursing assistants, and teachers. After 1962 and through the 1970s, a great number of West Indians began entering Canada, and Toronto’s Caribbean population increased dramatically.
An early area of settlement for the community was around Bloor and Bathurst streets, and later in the area around Eglinton Avenue and Dufferin Street. The community has gradually moved out to the suburbs, with identifiable areas along Jane Street and Finch Avenue, Lawrence Avenue and Markham Road, and Birchmount and Finch Avenue.
Approximately half the population of Guyana and Trinidad are of East Indian descent. Immigration records reveal that over 200,000 people of Indo-Caribbean background live in the Greater Toronto Area. In 1988, the Indo-Caribbean community celebrated the 150th anniversary of its presence in the Caribbean with a six-day conference at York University. The University also houses a centre for Indo-Caribbean studies.
In recent years, the community has come together to send relief to those Caribbean islands ravaged by hurricanes.
Caribbean Torontonians celebrate their heritage with distinctive foods and a passion for sports and music. Sports clubs are very popular, offering activities such as cricket, soccer and netball, and a popular pastime—dominoes. John Brooks, a Toronto West Indian, founded the National Domino League of Canada. Outstanding Caribbean-Canadian athletes include members of the 1996 Olympic gold medal relay team, sprinter Donovan Bailey, 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 metre dash, and Mark McCoy, 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the 110 metre hurdles.
CARIBANA, held in late July or early August each year, is modelled after Carnival in Trinidad, which began as a celebration of freedom from slavery. The first parade took place along Yonge Street in conjunction with Montreal’s Expo ’67. Today, more than 1 million people show up for the parade that winds along the lakeshore. Caribana’s masqueraders depict a specific theme which reflects history, current events, film, social commentary, and carnival tradition. Participants can be seen doing the Wine, a gyrating movement of the torso, characteristic of West Indian dance. Every year, the Miss Black Ontario Pageant is held.
An annual summer music festival featuring steel bands, calypso and reggae music is held at Ontario Place, under the patronage of the Jamaican and Trinidad High Commissions in Canada.
Each island community in the city celebrates its own independence day with festivities:
GUYANA’S REPUBLIC DAY, February 23, celebrates the day in 1970 that Guyana became the Co-operative Republic of Guyana within the Commonwealth of Nations. This event is celebrated with a dinner and dance.
CARNIVAL is celebrated with dances and parties by the Trinidadian and Tobago community during the weekend and the Monday and Tuesday prior to Lent.
GRENADIAN CULTURAL DAY is May 21. The Grenada Association of Toronto sponsors a cultural program including displays, food, and dancing.
JAMAICA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY is celebrated on August 6 with a dinner, speeches and a cultural program. It commemorates the day in 1962 when Jamaica became an independent nation within the Common -wealth.
INDEPENDENCE DAY FOR TRINIDADIANS AND TOBAGONIANS is August 31. It celebrates their Independence Day within the Commonwealth, which took place in 1962.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO REPUBLIC DAY is celebrated on the last Saturday in September with awards, presentations, speeches, dinner, and a dance, followed by a cultural presentation.
BARBADOS INDEPENDENCE DAY, November 30, commemorates the day in 1966 that Barbados became an independent nation within the Commonwealth. The community celebrates with a dinner, speeches, special church services, and a cultural program.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA INDEPENDENCE DAY, November 1. Celebrated with a special service of Thanksgiving dinner and dance, it commemorates independence from Britain in 1981.
BLACK PAGES, (Tel. 416-364-1900, 6021 Yonge St., Suite 306).
CARIBBEAN CAMERA, (Tel. 416-412-3605, 55 Nugget Ave., Suite 212). A weekly newspaper. Editor: Rayner Maharaj.
CARIBBEAN CONNECTION, CHIN 1540 AM, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Saturday, 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Host: Jai Maharaj.
CARIBBEAN CONNECTION, CHIN 100.7 FM, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Tuesday to Thursday, 12:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.; Saturday, 12:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Host: Jai Maharaj.
CKLN RADIO, 88.1 FM, (Tel. 416-595-1477, 380 Victoria St), features Caribbean programs. Sunday, 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Friday, 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.; Saturday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
INDO-CARIBBEAN WORLD, (Tel. 905-738-5005, 312 Brownridge Dr., Thornhill). A Toronto publication aimed at West Indians in general, with an emphasis on the Indo-Caribbean population. Contact: Harry Ramkhelawan.
INDO-CARIBBEAN VISIONS, CITYTV, channel 57, (Tel. 416-591-5757, 299 Queen St. W). Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Producer: Ken Singh.
PRIDE, (Tel. 416-335-1719, 5200 Finch Ave. E., Suite 200A). A weekly newspaper. Publisher: Michael Van Cooten.
SHARE, (Tel. 416-656-3400, www.sharenews.com, 658 Vaughan Rd). A national weekly newspaper serving Canada’s Black and Caribbean community. With a circulation of more than 130,500 it is Canada’s largest ethnic newspaper. Publisher: Arnold A. Auguste. Editor: Jules Elder.
BERMUDA SOCIAL CLUB, (Tel. 416-493-3512, 61 Palmdale Dr). Organizes social and cultural events. Contact: Mavis Simmon.
CARIBBEAN CANADIAN BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONALS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-690-3913, 2558 Danforth Ave., Suite 203).
Caribana Parade Participants
CARIBBEAN YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, (Tel. 416-740-1558, 995 Arrow Rd). Provides therapeutic counselling, support counselling, and advocacy to youths and families.
JAMAICAN CANADIAN ASSOCIATION (JCA), (Tel. 416-746-5772, 995 Arrow Rd). A non-profit organization formed in 1962 on the occasion of Jamaica’s independence from Britain. Organizes the festivities every Independence Day and helps new immigrants with housing and employment, provides youth educational programs and a Black cultural arts project. It provides a Credit Union for its members and publishes INFOCUS, a newsletter of community information. Annual events include dances, musical evenings, picnics, a Walk-A-Thon, and an outstanding achievement award, presented to a member of the community in honour of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican activist in the early 1900s.
NEVCAN, (Tel. 416-239-2648, c/o 1529 Islington Ave). The association of Nevisians, established in 1978 to help newly arrived Nevisians settle in Toronto. Also assists in the development of health and education, helps maintain cultural links with Nevis, and informs young Canadians on the traditions of their ancestors.
TROPICANA COMMUNITY SERVICES ORGANIZATION, (Tel. 416-439-9009, 670 Progress Rd., Suite 14). Offers individual and family counselling to African and Caribbean individuals.
YOUTH PROGRAMS, (Tel. 416-656-8025, Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre, 1900 Davenport Rd).