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Is Toronto Exploiting Caribana?

Caribbean folks will flock to the festival for parties, barbecues and parades, sure to have lots of fun and spend lots of money. But will Toronto’s economy get the biggest party favor?

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When the jubilant extravaganza known as Caribana officially begins on July 14, more than 1 million people from around the world will take to the streets of Toronto in an outpouring of enthusiasm for the culture and pleasures of the Caribbean.

Established in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s centenary and its many cultures, the three week festival—the most diverse in North America—now has imitators almost everywhere people of the Caribbean have settled—which doesn’t stop them from making their way to Caribana as well.

“It’s blossomed into one of the happiest times of the year here,” said Alicia Sealey, a longtime member of the Caribbean Arts Group.

But while Caribana serves as a wonderful excuse to party and congregate in endless backyard barbecues and picnics in the parks, it is especially important as a reminder of home.

“The ability to beat pan (steel band), play mas (masquerade), wine, lime and make bacchanal with your kind for a few days, as if you were on Frederick Street, was a way to salve that yearning,” said Robin Timothy, a Trinidadian consultant who divides his time between New York and the island, adding, “and it is still is.”

An enormous amount of creativity, energy and organization goes into Caribana, which this year features the Calypso Music Series, Junior Carnival, Caribana 2009 Art Exhibition, Caribana Gala, King and Queen Show, Pan Alive, and most important, Toronto Caribana Parade. Strutting your stuff to the music—the bouncy rhythm of calypso, soca, reggae, jazz, gospel—any music with a touch of the African beat—underlies every aspect of the festival, and the heartbeat is the masquerade band. Its success depends on the imaginativeness of its theme; on how several hundred people can be transformed into a representation of society through fantasy or parody.