Caribana Delivers Feathers, Floats, and Flesh
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Caribana Delivers Feathers, Floats, and Flesh

Yesterday, throngs of men and women took to the streets of Toronto to protest subdued colours, quiet music, and clothing other than bikinis. Oh wait, it was just Caribana.

The forty-third annual Caribana parade began at 10 a.m., at Exhibition Place. By mid-day, a crowd that organizers claim amounted to as many as 1.2 million people had gathered along the event’s Lakeshore Boulevard West marching route. Despite the festival’s recent change in leadership and its difficulty in securing federal and provincial funding this year, the parade went according to plan—insofar as a street party involving thousands of people dressed in fluorescent plumage can have a plan.
The parade was punctuated by elaborate floats—delicate fabric constructions built to resemble enormous, ornate dresses—each of which was pulled by a single person. Most were done up in bright, festive colours, presumably to celebrate Caribbean heritage and culture. One of them was done up in black, with a familiar winged, oval-shaped logo on top, presumably to celebrate Batman.
Between the floats was the traditional sea of colourful costumes and colourful exposed skin. Shanisse, Deneille, and Shurlanna, young women with Trinidadian heritage, answered our questions about their costumes.
Torontoist: Are you comfortable?
Deneille: Yeah.
Torontoist: Are you cold?
Deneille: Not really.
Torontoist: Body glitter: how do you get it off?
Deneille: Um…I just shower.
Torontoist: Are the feathered headdresses heavy?
Deneille: No, they’re pretty light.
Shanisse: It gets heavy sometimes when the wind blows.
DJs and steel drum bands rolled past on the flatbeds of eighteen wheelers, blasting uptempo music. The crowd swayed and snapped pictures, and grazed on the concessions that were available throughout Exhibition Place from Caribana’s registered food vendors. A pair of guys who had filled their municipal recycling bins with ice, and were hawking bottled drinks out of them, were asked to leave by police, as were several other unlicensed entrepreneurs.
But for most, the parade was a welcoming and exciting experience. One group of men told us they’d travelled from New York City, and had never been to a Caribana festival before. One man had travelled from Trinidad. A woman seated on an embankment along the parade route had come from Florida (she was of Guyanese extraction).
For an afternoon, Toronto felt tropical. Now if only we could find a way to do this in February.