Caribbean carnival parade before CN Tower and Toronto skyline

Photograph by Lucy / Shutterstock

How to experience Caribbean culture without leaving the GTA

From food to music to art, here’s how to get a taste of the Caribbean right here at home

Caribbean culture has made a huge impact on Toronto—you only have to listen our city’s vernacular to see the influence of Jamaican Patois (take sayings like “real talk” and “from time,” for example). If you haven’t made it your mission to find the best Trinidadian doubles in the city, we’re not sure we can be friends.

And of course, there’s Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival, the annual festival originally known as Caribana, which turned 50 last year. It was founded by a group of immigrants from the Caribbean who organized the event for Canada’s centennial. Modelled after carnivals and festivals from their native lands, including Jamaica’s Junkanoo, Trinidad’s Carnival and Barbados’ Crop Over, what started as a small parade has become a city-wide celebration of pan-Caribbean culture. Though control of the event no longer sits with the Caribbean community—it has been run by the Festival Management Committee, an “arms-length organization,” since 2006—the goal has always been to use a few weeks of the summer to display the beauty of Caribbean culture, capped off with the Grand Parade. Whether you enjoy dancing, eating or anything in between, we’ve mapped out the perfect itinerary for parade weekend.

Friday, August 2

8 p.m.: Head to the Island Soul festival at Harbourfront Centre

When: August 2-5
Where: Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.
Cost: Free

The best way to kick off a weekend of Caribbean vibes is definitely the annual Island Soul festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. You’ll be transported to the Caribbean through enticing smells, mesmerizing dances and family-friendly activities that celebrate the diversity of the region. It’s an all-day event, so plan to grab some lunch at the World Café, jump on stage for some dancing lessons, take part in a game of Oware, experience live performances from talented artists and visit one of the many craft vendors who have an array of creations for sale. (Photograph courtesy of Harbourfront Centre)

Hot tip: Be sure to find the “corn soup man,” who literally makes the city’s best Caribbean corn soup. (For the uninitiated, corn soup is the Caribbean’s version of street meat—hearty, filling and always on offer after a party, or fête. It’s made with a split-pea base and contains veggies like carrot, squash, plantain and—of course—sweet corn on the cob.)

Saturday, August 3

close-up on woman's face wearing pink and gold Caribana pageant costume

8:30 a.m.: Check out the Caribana Grand Parade

When: August 3
Where: Exhibition Place & Lakeshore Boulevard, 15 Saskatchewan Rd.
Cost: $20+

If you only catch one event this weekend, make it the parade. Participants join a band, the term for an organized group of revelers, and wear costumes designed by the band leader and assembled by an army of volunteers to play mas, or dance in the parade. The costumes can be up to nine metres tall and weigh as much as 150 kilograms, but even the less elaborate “backline” costumes are still pretty spectacular. Secure your spot to watch the bands cross the stage at Exhibition Place by purchasing a general admission ticket, or splurge on VIP tickets, which include breakfast, a three-course lunch and unlimited non-alcoholic drinks throughout the day. Of course, most of the parade happens on Lakeshore Boulevard—and watching it there is free!

Hot tip: It’s always important to ask masqueraders first if you can take a photo of or with them. Also, be careful around the costumes—lots of hard work went into building them. (Photograph by Arindambanerjee / Shutterstock)

9 p.m.: Keep the party going at Carnival Kingdom

When: August 3
Where: Improve Canada, 7250 Keele St., Vaughan
Cost: $65+

If you’re still in the mood to fête, you’ll want to grab tickets to this outdoor concert, which promises a roster of international superstars. Enjoy performances from Machel Montano, Sean Paul, Skinny Fabulous, Ravi B and Karma with Nisha B, and more.

Hot tip: This Summer of Sound-produced event is rain or shine, so keep an eye on the weather and dress appropriately.

Sunday, August 4

Performer in white shirt and black pants on stage before crowd at Jambana

1 p.m.: Enjoy Jamaican culture—and food!—at Jambana

When: August 4-5
Where: Garden Square, 12 Main St. N., Brampton, ON, and Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St., Toronto, ON
Cost: $40+

If (somehow) you still have the energy to jump up, be sure to attend family-friendly Jambana. This two-day festival offers up a taste of Jamaican dance, food, arts and crafts, and music—especially that last one.

Hot tip: The best patties in the GTA (sorry, not sorry) can be found just down the street at a restaurant called Tinnel’s(Photograph by Kevin Jones)

Monday, August 5

Yellow roti from Ali's Roti on a black mat with greens in background

6 p.m.: Keep the vibe going with a Caribbean dinner

When: August 5
Where: Across the GTA
Cost: $15+

The ideal end to a weekend full of Caribbean culture is a laid-back but delicious dinner. There are star Caribbean restaurants throughout the GTA, but we admit we have our favourites. Opt for Ali’s Roti in Toronto’s west end, Pat’s Homestyle Jamaican downtown, Albert’s Real Jamaican Food in midtown and Drupati’s in Etobicoke, Scarborough, Ajax and Brampton.

Hot tip: If you’re at a Jamaican restaurant, you owe it to yourself to try the oxtail, a rich stew that’s usually eaten with rice and peas. And if you’re at a Trini spot, the doubles are a must.

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