Caribbean Carnival Going Virtual: We look at what’s happening this year as we look back on Canada’s celebration of freedom and diversity

How this legendary and iconic event is being handled during a year when all major events are being redrawn – and how you can still take part in the epic party.

Talk about vibrancy – and a rich legacy.

Now in its 53rd year, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival has evolved into North America’s largest event of its kind, with more than one million participants annually, showcasing the very best of Canadian Caribbean culture and arts.

The summer festival features elaborate costumes, Caribbean music, food and the Grand Parade, an annual event held steps away from Exhibition GO station. For decades, GO transit has helped hundreds of thousands of carnival goers get to that main parade.

But this year’s celebrations will look and feel very different but that doesn’t mean the party has to stop.

From July 1 to August 1, 2020, organizers of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival will be celebrating the Carnival virtually. Given the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, they have decided to get creative with several events leading up to the virtual parade.

From Microbusiness Mondays to Wellness Wednesdays to live social media events on Saturdays and Calypso Sundays, organizers are doing their best to make sure Caribbean art and culture can still be celebrated throughout the month, leading up to August 1.

On that date, DJs from across the world will be playing Soca, a genre of music that originates from Trinidad and Tobago. The party will start online and begin in Australia, make its way to Asia, Europe and move through the Caribbean and end at home in Toronto where organizer will be presenting the virtual road with a virtual parade.

It’s a unique take on a day many have circled in their calendars well in advance.

“The Toronto Caribbean Carnival is my favourite event of the year – I spend months planning and organizing with my friends,” says Sheradan Clarke.

She’s a GO transit customer who also plays Mas, which is essentially wearing a traditional costume while dancing through the streets to the island music.

A young woman stands on a train platform while wearing a vibrant costume.

Decked in her red and black costume, wearing the colors of Trinidad and Tobago where her parents are originally from, Sheradan Clarke takes GO transit to and from the parade for nearly nine years. This image was taken prior to COVID safety and health measures at stations and in GO vehicles. (Photo by Sheradan Clarke)

The Carnival means a lot to Clarke. It’s a chance for her community to come together and for other Torontonians to experience her culture in a celebration of diversity and multiculturalism. The event preserves the traditions and uniqueness of the island experience.

“We get a lot of attention, but most importantly, we meet a lot of people, curious about our costumes. It was such a good vibe,” recalls Clarke.

“Sharing my culture with other GO train riders, laughing, taking pictures for Instagram and enjoying the moment – there’s nothing like it.”

Clarke says, in past years, there’s been no safer means of transportation for her and her friends who board the train already in costume. As a reveller, she says she feels comfortable knowing she arrives safe and ready to have fun. She also loves the interaction on board.

“We’re able to meet different people from the various competing Mas bands and sections, all wearing their different coloured costumes, taking selfies together and playing music from their phones,” she notes.

“It really is an event that everyone should have the opportunity to experience.”

Taking GO has become part of the annual tradition for Clarke who likes the idea of not having to deal with traffic to and from the parade and not having to pay an exorbitant amount for parking.

Over the last four years, GO transit has had over 75,000 inbound and outbound trips, even created additional train service on the Milton, Stouffville, and Kitchener Lines to accommodate those attending the Grand Parade. Last year alone, the transit agency provided over 20,000 trips to and from the event.

“As one of the largest Caribbean cultural celebrations in the world, GO Transit has always been proud to be a part of the journey,” says Josh Nobrega, Metrolinx’s Events and Partnerships and Event Manager.

“It’s always an incredible opportunity to serve our communities and showcase our transit service to people from southern Ontario, and to travellers from all over the globe who take part in this event.”

A young woman sits on a GO train while wearing a vibrant costume.

Chenez Power is one of the thousands of revellers who have taken GO transit to get to the Grand Parade steps away from Exhibition GO Station. This image was taken during a prior parade and before COVID meant face coverings are the norm. (Photo by Toronto Carnival)

This year we will be very different and although there won’t be a parade for GO Transit to help people get to and from the parade and other events, the agency is hoping to help organizers by bring awareness to the virtual events.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the virtual Toronto Carnival experience this year,” says Clarke.

“I will miss wearing the costumes with my friends, dancing through the parade, but given the current circumstances, it’s better to be safe. I’m looking forward to returning to the road parade next year.”

Organizers say the Toronto Carnival will be bigger and better in 2021 and in the meantime they are gearing up for a virtual party like no other. For more information on all the virtual events or if you would like to be featured in the virtual carnival, just go here or follow the organizers on Instagram @torontocarnival.ca

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist.