Toronto Caribana: A Cultural Tradition

Caribana is one of the most wonderful times of the year in my opinion; the sun is shining all over the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and the weeks leading up to the grand parade are full of excitement. Every year over a million people attend the parade and related festivities. Although we’ve been celebrating it in Toronto for so long, not many people know the history of our Caribbean cultural celebration and how it actually came to be. Whether you’re Caribbean or not, everyone knows that the first weekend in August is time to play mas, eat delicious island food and dance all over the place. According to Historica Canada, Caribana started back in 1960’s when funding was available for different groups to help celebrate Canada’s 100th year. Canada’s Black community at the time consisted of those who’ve already had a long history in Canada and new Black-Canadians who had recently arrived. The groups decided to get together and plan a way to raise the profile of the Caribbean/African/Black foods, arts, music and culture that the African diaspora brought over; they decided to do this using a “carnival” model. It’s no coincidence that the Caribana grand parade takes place during the first weekend of August every year; it’s on August 1st, 1834 that slavery ended in British-controlled Canada and the Caribbean. Caribana is a way to celebrate the end of that terrible period of time by showing off the beautiful Caribbean traditions formed over the years and as a symbol of independence. 

So now let’s get to the fun stuff, how does one celebrate Caribana anyway? Well there are tons of events starting from all the way in the Spring where mas (querade) bands have their launches which are pretty much a fashion show of the costumes they have available, great DJs and an all-around fun time. The city even has their own Caribana launch and there are a series of parties and boat cruise events to get everyone pumped up. Traditionally the major events are the King and Queen competition and the parade itself. For the King and Queen each band sends their leaders to perform for a panel of judges and an excited crowd, the male and female performer with the best costume detail, best performance and best representation of the band’s theme get to win a wad of cash, bragging rights and the title of King/Queen of Caribana for that year. The judging doesn’t end there because at the Caribana parade each band has to pass by a panel of judges too and the top 3 bands are selected. These top 3 bands of course have major bragging rights and are usually the first to sell out of costumes come next Caribana season. Even after the parade weekend there are still many parties that go on because almost everyone who attended the parade wants that feeling back, one day of madness is not enough! Have you ever been to a Soca fete? That’s the main type of party that takes place during Caribana season. 

A Soca fete is pretty much a Caribbean rave, the DJ spins mainly Soca throughout the night, but gives the fete-goers a break with some dancehall reggae and even hip hop; trust me, if you are dancing properly to Soca then the break is welcomed! If you really want to feel Caribbean then you need to go to Jab Jab J’ouvert (pronounced Jouvay) in Toronto, J’ouvert morning is the morning of the Caribana parade and is a crazy party in which jab jab-ers cover themselves in paint, chocolate, baby powder and other fun things as a start to Caribana weekend. 

There are a few other notable Caribbean parades out there such as Notting Hill, New York City, Boston and Miami, but it’s Toronto’s Caribana that is one of the biggest in North America. Caribana weekend is a time of year for everyone to celebrate Caribbean culture, see family, meet new people and share our city with tourists. If you’re ever faced with the decision to come to Toronto for only one weekend Caribana is definitely the one to consider! Just remember to bring your sunscreen, water, a charged cell phone battery and your flag!

*Photos were generously provided by ESI Photo. Visit the website for more awesome shots!*


Asha Mullings aka Ekelle is a Toronto based artist, model, and writer. You can connect with her on Twitter and IG at #officialekelle.