An official organizing body the Caribbean Centennial Committee was founded in 1967 (later renamed the Caribbean Cultural Committee-Caribana in 1969) and the plans for the first Caribana were made. The first Caribana parade began at Varsity Stadium (Bloor Street) on Saturday, August 5, 1967 going east on Bloor Street, south on Yonge Street, then west on Queen Street to City Hall watched by about 50,000 spectators. By 1970 the Caribana parade had been moved to University Avenue and in 1991 it was moved to the CNE Grandstand and Lakeshore Boulevard.The first Caribana was such a success (the Caribana attendees reportedly set a one-day record for ferry use on the last day of that 1967 celebration) that the authorities realized its money making potential and encouraged the organizers to make it an annual event. From its modest beginning in 1967 the Caribbean Festival has grown into the largest Caribbean festival in North America and the third largest carnival in the world, drawing over 1 million spectators and 250,000 visitors a year and contributing more than 400 million dollars to the Canadian economy. There have been some changes other than the numbers and location. The Caribbean organization which initiated the celebration has been sidelined and the festival has been re-named, branded by a corporate “sponsor.” One thing that has remained the same over the years is that the Caribbean community provides the entertainment and Canadian (mostly white) companies and individuals become wealthier. The hotels, taxi cab companies, restaurants, club owners, vendors, government (police, public transportation etc.,) all make money during the weeks of celebration of the Caribbean festival. The Caribbean community has not benefited from the millions of dollars their talent has brought into this country via the Caribbean Festival that began in 1967 as Caribana. After 45 years of work providing entertainment that has made Toronto the place to be for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually during the August 1st weekend our community is no further ahead financially. The celebration became somewhat removed from its history of resistance and became a visual display of “feathers, floats and flesh” as one white male writer labelled it in an August 1, 2010 article entitled “Caribana Delivers Feathers, Floats, and Flesh.” Unfortunately that is what many people who come to watch the annual celebration see and think they know about Caribbean culture.
The history of the beginning of the Carnival after which the Caribana celebration was modelled has almost been lost in the revelry and the recent rush to claim this “goose that lays the golden eggs.” At the recent “Kwame Ture Memorial Lecture Series 2012” held in Trinidad and Tobago during a panel discussion themed “Reclaiming The Carnival: History of Resilience and Resistance” held at the National Library in Port-of-Spain the Poet Laureate of Trinidad and Tobago Pearl Eintou Springer spoke of a similar concern: “The people don’t have any knowledge of the importance of Carnival and of its roots historically, and its role as an instrument of social expression and social cohesion, and its possibility for transformation and regeneration. The people don’t have knowledge of a people’s ability to survive. There is critical need for the knowledge of the African to be spread in the communities. The knowledge is not only about Carnival. It is not only about critical resistance and retention. It is about a people’s ability to survive after all the challenges...after suffering the worst holocaust. The same people who cursed it and lambasted before are the same people who are embracing it. The Carnival is being taken away from us. The African is being robbed of this Carnival. It is being taken away from us. The Carnival is now being taken away because they (the business sector) are now seeing it as economically relevant. It is now good for them.”This year there has been some acknowledgement of Caribana’s connection to August 1st Emancipation Day. However I was surprised at the information (or lack) contained in the literature of one of the new sponsors named at the July 17 launch of the Caribbean festival. The documented history of the Demerara Distillers Rum which is a new sponsor contains no acknowledgement of the contribution of enslaved Africans’ unpaid labour to the success of the company. Although the company acknowledges: “Rum has its origin rooted in the years of the sugar plantations. The story of Demerara Rum began in 1670 at a time when almost sugar estate in Guyana had its own distillery each producing its own unique rum through the introduction of the art of distillation. It was here that the foundation of Demerara Rums was laid down. Over the centuries rum production was consolidated under the ownership of the Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL)” The fact that the company’s operation began in 1670 means that the unpaid labour of enslaved Africans contributed to the success of the company whoever owns it today. Sugar and rum could not have been produced in the Caribbean without the coerced, unpaid labour of enslaved Africans and that needs to be acknowledged. Sugar and its by-product rum which made the fortune of many poverty stricken white men who went to the "colonies" to make their fortune contributed to the wealth of Britain and other European nations as illustrated in this BBC production http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=injqATWMRkM about slavery in Jamaica which was very similar to slavery in Guyana and everywhere that the British exploited and brutalised the Africans they enslaved.
On August 4 when the visitors to the 45th celebration of Caribbean culture gather to watch the spectacle on Lakeshore Boulevard and those playing “mas” in their spectacular costumes most will not know the history of the celebration. It is important that we know the history and share it with our friends and family who travel from various places to celebrate.