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Toronto Carnival still has the Caribbean “spirit,” even with a cancelled parade
Aug. 3, 2021
Oliva Bowden

The parade may have been cancelled, but the festivities, the music and the food are still going for the 2021 Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

Lateisha Williams, dressed in an intricate white, pale blue and pink carnival costume, posed for pictures with the public Saturday afternoon while celebrating the finale of a series of Carnival events that were organized despite the parade’s cancellation.

Williams, the official face of the 2021 festivities, said while she’s heartbroken the parade didn’t happen this year and businesses along with the community are suffering from it -- at least this celebration wasn’t entirely virtual, like the 2020 events.

She was at one of the last events for Carnival, which is the Carnival Flavours street food festival at Scarborough Town Centre that will run until 10 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s been hard for me to get used to there not being a Carnival for another year,” she said. “But the (organizers) have done an amazing job....they found a really good way to include everyone in the culture and hold up the spirit.”

The Carnival, formerly known as Caribana, was without a parade for the second straight year due to the ongoing pandemic. The City of Toronto announced in May that the yearly festival in celebration of Emancipation Day and Caribbean culture would not receive a permit, as they’ve paused all permits for events on public property until after Labour Day.

And the pandemic isn’t the first issue to throw a wrench into festivities. In 2018, the City of Vaughan decided to revoke a permit for the annual Carnival Kingdom event less than two hours before it started, via text message to organizers, who said reasons for the cancellation were nonsensical.

Now, in Step 3 of Ontario’s reopening, Carnival has pivoted to several events over the last few weeks to ensure the spirit of the festivities continues on.

Organizers launched a Patio Lime series at restaurants all over the GTA. Multiple other events including boat cruises, fetes and a food festival showcasing Caribbean flavours at Scarborough Town Centre, in partnership with Street Eats, that’s ending the month-long celebration this weekend.

“To be able to interact and engage with people in person and have them dance with each other, even with the health restrictions ... it brings us one step closer to having a parade again,” said Andre Newell, the marketing director for the festival.

A few thousand people have attended the street food festival since it began Friday. Jamaican patties, hot corn and jerk chicken are being served, along with many other dishes as live music plays.

The economic impact on businesses that rely on the Carnival each year has been devastating, said Newell. Being able to bring some local vendors and artists in this year has brought some relief, he added.

“Even just the see people enjoying their food again, and seeing how much they love it, that’s the important thing,” he said. “2022 we’re coming back bigger, and better than ever.”

Veneise George, the founder of Yawdi’s brand marinades that are being sold at Loblaws and Sobey’s, was one of the vendors dancing to the music while she showed customers her sauces at the food festival, including a jerk marinade.

Having at least some of the in-person Carnival experience back through the current events has been a joy after the last year in lockdown, said George.

“A lot of our businesses have gone under through COVID. When you see businesses that have survived COVID, it’s great to get the continued support,” she said, adding it’s just another reason to attended the scaled-down Carnival.

“Especially if you’re a local... the support of the community is all that there is,” she said.