By: Patrick Shepperd

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 135-139
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

Caribana began as the dream of ten enthusiastic individuals from diverse backgrounds but with a common West Indian heritage. They called their organisation the Centennial Committee. On July 28, 1967 it was formally incorporated as the Caribbean Committee for Cultural Advancement, but later changed to the Caribbean Cultural Committee-Caribana (January 15, 1969). Their dream was the construction of a monument of goodwill, a confirmation of Caribbean culture and a statement of belonging to their adopted land, Canada.

This dream was forged in the heady days of 1967, when Canada was celebrating its Centennial and the West Indian community was asked to make a contribution which would enhance the celebrations of Expo '67. It took the form of a colourful parade down Yonge Street. George Bancroft, former executive director in the Ministry of Culture and Recreation, wrote in Caribana's 1980 Souvenir Magazine:

"I saw the first [parade] in 1967. It was spontaneous, exuberant and a lot of fun. This was organized, I believe, by Dr. Al Liverpool and his colleagues. I recall this first venture was made to coincide with the celebration of our Canadian Centenary. I remember the groups assembling on Bloor Street outside the Varsity Stadium . . . and proceeding east along Bloor to Yonge, then down Yonge Street. It was one of the first grand public statements of the West Indian presence in Canada."

The dream persists today for over 200,000 revellers, well-wishers and patrons, who celebrate in the parade down University Avenue or on Olympic Island in late July and early August each year.

Caribana's struggles over the last seventeen years are part of the painful learning experiences of a non-profit organisation endeavouring to stage one of Canada's major tourist attractions. These experiences would have been sufficient to daunt the spirit of most volunteer organisations and to cause their early demise. However, Caribana has tenaciously survived throughout these years. The survival and success of Caribana is the story of the men, women and children in the community who have played a role in its support.

What were the guiding principles of the organisation, and how were these principles followed? What aims were enunciated and how successful was Caribana in achieving them? As stated by Romain Pitt, a Toronto lawyer born in Grenada who was one of the founding directors:
"The most important thing to remember was that there were three features in designing the organization. We wanted a large board of directors. We decided, on the basis of the history of failures of other organizations, it was important to have enough people to do the job. As a result of that decision, the odds were that we could attract highly skilled (and influential) people to the Board.

The Board had to be apolitical. By virtue of its decision not to take political sides, it would be possible to have people of many different persuasions working together.
Membership was voluntary. The Letters Patent state that the directors shall serve. . . without remuneration, and no director shall directly or indirectly receive any profit from his position.

Because of the size of the Board, there would always be a core of dedicated and unselfish people to call on."

The organization has consistently maintained these principles throughout the years even though a twenty-one-member board has been unwieldy at times. In October 1983, through constitutional amendment the number was reduced to fifteen.

The committee's first aim was the promotion of Caribbean culture. Culture is loosely defined as the manifestation of a people's heritage through the spoken and written word, song, dance and works of art. In this area Caribana has been eminently successful in planning, organizing, promoting and displaying the best available components of West Indian artistic talent in Toronto. The second aim was to acquire, maintain and operate a community centre. Other aims refer to the recognition and support of similar organisations; the sponsorship of events of a social or recreational nature; the acquisition and use of gifts in the furtherance of these aims and the undertaking of financial endeavours in the pursuit of its objectives. However, the objectives were more difficult to achieve than originally anticipated. The difficulties experienced resulted partly from the nature of the organisation, its structure and its role in the community.

The form and function of the organisation changed considerably over the years. What was originally conceived as a celebration for a single event in 1967 became a continuing program. Liverpool-a medical practitioner at Doctor's Hospital in the College-Spadina Avenue area-was the driving force behind the formation of the Centennial Committee. He and his group contacted various West Indian island governments to obtain their support in the venture. The response was tremendously positive. Local Toronto businessmen and community groups were also extremely excited by the prospect of participating in this event. Al's drive and infectious enthusiasm were helpful in attracting support.

The committee's tasks were made easier by the excitement generated by the commitment of local and West Indian governments, airlines, tourist boards, artists and interested individuals. For the first time in Canada a West Indian exposition of cultural events which would parallel Canada's main event, Expo '67 in Montreal, was going to be staged in Toronto. As a result of the strong, positive, community response, the Centennial Committee decided with the support of Metropolitan Toronto and the City of Toronto Councils, to hold the event on Olympic Island for one week. The Centennial Ball at Casa Loma and the parade of costumed bands down Yonge Street began the show. Eric Lindsay, a lawyer and founding director, said:

"We are pleased that the West Indian governments were prepared to contribute artistic talent and to pay for the transportation of the artists from Trinidad, Jamaica, etc. Local businessmen, individuals and groups also gave unstintingly of their resources of time, money, expertise and products. Contributions of plants, straw hats, food, posters, advertisements, promotions, were happily made. We had good help, plenty of it and at little or no cost."

The 1967 celebrations were successful in terms of impact on the community-the demonstration of the capability of a volunteer group with no prior experience to orchestrate one week of intense activity and the satisfaction of the participants in the celebration of a national event. The success of the 1967 celebrations was due in large measure to the donations, assistance and contributions of the emerging Black community and the active participation of mainstream Canada in a colourful and happy affair.

In 1968 Caribana harnessed the energy and drive that was built up with the momentum of 1967. The focus was placed on doing something for the West Indian community, which created changes in the growth of the organisation. The Cultural Committee felt that in the emerging West Indian community- composed mainly of graduates, students, businessmen and recent immigrants-there was a need to provide social services such as assistance with immigration matters.

In addition to Caribana shows, the committee pursued its social objectives by sponsoring interpretative dance classes in 1969 and 1970, together with a drama group which presented two plays by Caribbean playwrights, the formation of a steel band and the provision of practice facilities and the sponsorship of lectures and seminars for new immigrants from the Caribbean to aid their understanding of and adjustment to Canadian life. From October 1970 to April 1971, the committee offered temporary accommodation to the Black Youth Organisation whose primary purpose was to assist underprivileged Black Youth.

Non-West Indians who were previously active in the organization and in the development of the festival became onlookers. The organization, now called the Caribbean Committee for Cultural Advancement, was structured around a board of directors, whose executive committee was responsible for the formal administration of the organization. The remaining six directors contributed ideas, suggestions and advice through ad-hoc subcommittees. The main subcommittees dealt with business, social and cultural activities, research, public relations and recreation. A Carnival subcommittee, composed of members and band leaders, was formed to organize and plan the Caribana parade which was increasing in size and complexity. Like most volunteer organizations, the committee relied on assistance from members and supporters to perform the many functions associated with staging such an event, from the development and distribution of print material to the erection of stage lights. Archibald Bastien, a founding director and a professional engineer, worked closely with city officials in providing electric power to Olympic Island. Individuals, like Peter Marcelline, a City Planner and long-standing founding member, donated their vacation time to perform many functions from the collection of tickets to the dispensing of beer.

In 1967 community support for Caribana was given in time, money and expertise. However, in the ensuing years, this same support was left to the organization itself. The expense of renting halls, an office, equipment, booths, island ferries, chairs and tables and providing for artists' fees, prize monies, printing, advertising, security and insurance was increasingly difficult to meet. The organisation was forced to appeal to the provincial government for assistance. This situation deteriorated to the extent that in 1974 the chairman, Mr. Elmore Daisy, presented to the province a brief in which he wrote:

"The Caribana festival is our major source of revenue. While we can justifiably claim that the past six Caribana events have been culturally successful, we have been able to realize only minimal amounts of net revenue. The 1970 Extravaganza experiment left us with a deficit of some $16,000 which we have reduced to some $2,500 total indebtedness. In brief then, net profit from each year's function was barely sufficient to enable the organisation to keep functioning on a year-round basis.

We therefore, request that you consider favourably this application for a grant of $25,000 in support of general activities and to finance in part our planned community activities on a continuing basis."

The grant request was denied. Shorn of support in 1974, without viable assets and already committed to the event, directors signed personal loan guarantees to obtain the needed funds. Two years later, the province awarded a rival group of Carnival band leaders, called the Carnival Development Association, $20,000 to stage a Carnival parade scheduled for Caribana week. At that time, the committee received only a permit for the same event.

For the next five years, 1976-81, the future of the organisation was in doubt. Other groups captured the essence and spirit of Carnival and built upon the concept to stage various summer productions. George Lowe, the first treasurer and a member of the Centennial Committee, said in reference to the Centennial parade: "It was the first time that West Indians had given anything to Canada. You can now see the effects in other parades where the costumes are much more colourful and people seem to enjoy themselves more on the street."

While the impact of colour was indeed significant in other street festivals in Toronto, it was not until the expected summer Caribana festival was threatened, because of increasing deficits in 1982 and 1983, that provincial grants in excess of $7,500 were made available to the group.

The present organisation looks to a future bright with hope. New directions are being pursued with a more efficient organisation. The Ministry of Citizenship and Culture has committed its support together with the assistance of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force. Caribana's place in the history of the city as a multicultural centre is assured.

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