Toronto’s world-renown Caribbean Festival preparing for summer despite COVID-19

by | Apr 7, 2020 | News

Ashley Radcliffe, News Reporter

Organizers are worried the wildly popular Caribbean Festival may not be held this summer after Toronto banned all major events until June.

The annual Toronto’s Caribbean festival, formerly known as Caribana, is still scheduled for between July 30 and Aug. 3 , but it depends on whether the March 31 announcement by Mayor John Tory cancelling all public events will be lifted.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Toronto is cancelling all city-led major events, festivals, conferences and cultural programs, and is also cancelling all city permits for major events organized by external groups at civic centres and squares, parks, public spaces, city-operated museums and cultural centres,” Tory said in a press release.

“All of those permits will be cancelled through June 30,” he stated.

The order has affected some of the city’s biggest events, including Toronto’s Pride Parade, but the Caribbean Festival is one of the few that hasn’t so far been cancelled because it’s scheduled for later in the summer.

One of the many floats at the Toronto Caribbean Festival on Lake Shore Boulevard. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to cancel the 2020 edition of the world-renown celebration. (Flickr/LeAnna Simmons)

“We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation as it continues to unfold and stand prepared to respond and adapt to emerging government-mandated protocol,” said a statement from the festival’s official website. “As Caribana weekend is still four months away, it is still going forward as planned.”

Many are concerned about what a potential cancellation means for the festival’s future, where the annual Carnival has been city staple for 52 years.

It is one of the largest festivals celebrating Carnival, attracting about 1.2 million people with an economic impact of hundreds of millions of dollars to Toronto. An event that large requires significant preparation in advance to ensure its success.

However, under the city’s new mandate, the band launches used to advertise the festival’s traditional Carnival ensembles have been either delayed or cancelled.

“It is with careful thought and consideration that we would like to announce the postponement of our 2020 band launch and theme ‘Kingdoms,’” said Celena Seusahai, the CEO of Tribal Carnival, in an email interview.

Crowds slowly moving along Lake Shore Boulevard West during a recent Toronto Caribbean Festival. The 2020 parade could be cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Flickr/Canmark)

“Containment procedures for COVID-19 are still being developed and deployed,” she said. “Even if conditions were to stabilize within these next few weeks, we do not think a large event such as the Caribbean Carnival would be conducive to maintaining stable conditions.”

An official statement has not yet been released by the city regarding Caribana or other events scheduled for later in the summer.

However, as the days go by and the COVID-19 outbreak continues, Caribana’s ability to go on with this year’s celebration appears tenuous.