Toronto's Caribbean affair.

Author:King, Colin
Position:Caribana parade in Toronto, Canada

Mas camps are thick tales of spies from rival bands trying to take a sneak peak at the competition

The early afternoon sun is beating down hard on Lakeshore Boulevard and underfoot the asphalt is white hot. More than a million spectators have turned out for the annual Caribana parade and as usual, it is noisy beyond belief, colorful beyond imagination. Ear-piercing whistles trill above the din. Heavily amplified reggae bands powered by noisy gasoline-powered electrical generators play from the decks of dozens of fiat-bed semi-trailers inching down the road. Dancers in matching costumes strut their stuff by the thousands, while dozens of jaw-dropping "big mas" costumes (mas is short for masquerade) tower and sway twelve feet and more above the crowd, shimmering with iridescent eye-popping hues. Despite the heat, no one is leaving. At the best of times, this parade takes eight hours to dawdle along a two-and-a-half-mile route skirting the northern shore of Lake Ontario.

Caribana is the tangy scent of jerk chicken, the sweet lilt of island accents, and the cool taste of a Jamaican Red Stripe beer. It is the easy rhythm of reggae and the tingling sound of steel band calypso. It is North America's largest celebration of Caribbean culture--held as far from palm trees, sugar cane, and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean as you can get--in Toronto, Canada. Still, where else but in Canada's largest city would one expect to find this northern interpretation of Carnival, the pre-Lenten blowout celebrated in southern climes? Where else but in Toronto, multicultural mecca, where City Hall speaks in eight languages, where street signs and subways chatter in more, and parades are held at the drop of a hat?

Toronto's Good Friday parade--complete with a reenactment of the Crucifixion--attracts hundreds of thousands of parade watchers yearly to the city's Little Italy. At Chinese New Year, fifty-foot dragons weave through the largest of the city's three Chinatowns, and Danforth Avenue in Greektown is closed every spring for the Greek Independence Day parade. But the biggest turnout of all is for Caribana.

The first Caribana, launched as a one-shot street festival in 1967 to celebrate Canada's centennial as a nation, attracted crowds of a mere seventy-five thousand. But the festival soon took on a life of its own. Now African as well as Central and South American communities take part, and Caribana stretches from late July to early August. It is a two-week...

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