The Toronto Caribbean Carnival hits the virtual road – How you can join and what to expect next year

The iconic Grand Parade, planned for tomorrow (August 1), will look and feel very different this year but Metrolinx is already planning for the celebration in 2021.

This year will be known for many things, but legendary parties will not be one of them.

That doesn’t mean the most important gatherings can’t take place.

Every year GO transit has helped bring thousands of customers to Exhibition GO, where the largest street festival of its kind anywhere in North America takes place – the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

Throughout July, organizers celebrated the Carnival virtually. It’s all led to a remote event tomorrow (August 1), marking an online parade. The Grand Parade will be held virtually to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Image of a man in an amazing purple and white custome, with big wings.

A participant in a past Caribbean Carnival brings the splendor.

Although it might look a little different this year, its significance remains the same for many Metrolinx staff, including Leslie Woo, chief development and planning officer for Metrolinx.

“Playing ‘mas at the Grand Parade was one of the few ways I could connect with the spirit of Trinidad where I grew up,” recalls Woo.

Woo, who is Trinidadian of Chinese descent, says Toronto has been her second port of call since arriving in Canada to attend the University of Waterloo. For almost every year in the late 80’s, she played mas – putting on sequins and dressing up in bright, colourful costumes.

She says being raised on a small island in the Caribbean, Toronto was an unfamiliar landscape when she first arrived and she longed for any connection to her roots.

“The sweet sound of soca and calypso, the people, and especially the food is what soothed my homesickness.”

The event also means a lot of GO transit customers.

Over the last four years, GO transit has had more than 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 more than 20,000 trips to and from the event.

“My family and friends have always relied on GO transit to get us to the event,” says Chenez Power, a GO customer who plays mas.

“Living in Mississauga, getting to events, especially the Grand Parade, can be difficult, but GO transit makes the experience effortless.”

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)

The 26-year-old has been attending and participating in the Grand Parade for as long as she can remember. The event has always been a great way to meet new people and to enjoy everything the culture has to offer. For her, not playing mas would be like not having summer.

“When we get on the train, people would take our pictures and the mood is one of merriment and excitement,” recalls Power.

“When we get to Exhibition Station the platform is filled with revelers all donning costumes of every colour, large and small headpieces and so, so many feathers. The excitement is riveting.”

It’s with that experience in mind that Metrolinx is looking at new ways to make it easier and more affordable to take GO transit to the Toronto Caribbean Carnival moving forward. More details will be announced closer to next year’s event.

Image 2

Crowds gather for a past carnival.

Meanwhile, organizers of the event say the Toronto Carnival will be bigger and better in 2021 and this year, they are gearing up for a virtual party like no other.

The 53rd annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival hits the virtual road on August 1st at 9 am and will feature DJs playing from around the world. The livestream will begin in Australia, and then make its way to Europe, Japan, the Caribbean, and the United States before finally hitting the virtual the stage in Toronto.

For more information on how you can listen or watch the show which will be streaming on several platforms, click here

2020 isn’t the year of the party, but at least virtually, the parade will go on, with all eyes directed to next year’s event.

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