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Toronto Summer: Longer parade, same rhythms at Caribbean Carnival

This August long weekend, as it’s been for almost five decades, about one million people from around the world will converge on the city to party at Caribbean Carnival Toronto.

But this year, North America’s biggest such parade will be a full kilometre longer — more time for the masqueraders to dance to soca and calypso and more opportunities for spectators to marvel at the flamboyant costumes.

The festival, formerly known as Caribana, runs from July 8 to Aug. 3 and celebrates the culture of Trinidad, Jamaica and neighbouring islands.

Organizers have been tweaking the map in recent years, but with construction at Exhibition Place and the Pan Am Games next year, they’ve had to completely redraw the route within the grounds before it spills onto Lake Shore Boulevard.

“As the city changes, so too must our events,” Caribbean Carnival CEO Denise Herrera-Jackson said.

Adds co-CEO Chris Alexander: “This year we want more people to enjoy the parade.”

To that end, the festival has lowered the fee for general admission — from $20 to $5 — and set up “amazing views” for the audience.

First-timers will find a welcoming atmosphere as well as carnival veterans more than happy to teach them dance moves, according to CityNews reporter Tammie Sutherland, who has both participated in and reported on the event.

“I’ve played mas for years in Toronto and loved it,” she said.

“It’s addictive … It’s the music, the costumes, the food and the people that make it really great.”

Caribbean Carnival is not only about the parade, however. It’s a three-week festival and takes a full year to plan.

The competitions, feasts and parties pay homage to a rich history, but are also just a great time.

“It’s exciting. It’s highly anticipated. It’s almost like a ritual every single year,” Alexander said.

“Once you hear that carnival time is coming around, people start thinking it’s summer.”


Official launch: Dozens of masqueraders join soca, calypso and steel pan performers at city hall to launch the three-week event. Nathan Phillips Square. July 8.

Junior carnival: More than 2,500 children dance and play mas in a parade through the Malvern community. Prize for best costume. Neilson Park, 1555 Neilson Rd. July 19, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. See the parade route here.

Festival gala: A red carpet, cocktails, dinner and an after-party with proceeds going to the Caribbean Children Foundation — a Brampton-based charity which arranges vital medical treatment for Caribbean kids whose families can’t afford it. Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex, 25 British Columbia Rd. July 25, 5:30 p.m.-12 a.m. $160.

King and Queen contest: This showcase of the parade’s characteristic feathered and bejewelled costumes kicks off carnival weekend. Judges rate competitors on detail and how well the designs represent their theme. Lamport Stadium, 1155 King St. W. July 31, 7 p.m.-12 a.m. $30-$100.

Pan Alive: The largest outdoor steel pan competition in North America, featuring orchestras from Ontario and Quebec. Allan A. Lamport Stadium, 1155 King St. W. Aug. 1, 7 p.m. – 12 a.m. Check the carnival website for ticket info.

The Grand Parade: Revellers dance their way along the 4.5-kilometre route in the marquee event of the festival. Exhibition Place and Lake Shore Boulevard. Aug. 2, 10 a.m. -6 p.m. Exhibition Place general admission $5; bleachers $20; VIP cabanas $100. Lake Shore Boulevard: free.

Beyond de Lime: A family-friendly party on the Toronto Islands to mark the end of the festival — with live music and Caribbean food. Olympic Island Park, 9 Queens Quay W. Aug. 3, 12 p.m. $10-$60.

Click here for more information and a full list of official events.

Island Soul festival: Put on by Harbourfront Centre, this annual four-day event celebrates Caribbean music, dance, film, art and food and includes a jerk-themed cook-off and performances by the Ballet Creole troupe and reggae stalwart Marcia Griffiths. Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W. Aug. 1-4. Free.


Number of tourists: more than one million
Economic impact: more than $400 million
Length of new parade route: 4.5 kilometres
Time it takes a mas band to travel the parade route: four to five hours (approximate speed 1 km/h)
Number of mas bands: nine
Number of people in the largest band: 3,000
Number of people playing mas this year: about 15,000
Average number of water bottles consumed per person: four (more on a hot day)
Average number of feathered plumes in one headpiece: 16

Caribbean Carnival Toronto parade map:

Source: Caribbean Carnival Toronto