Caribbean Carnival rocks Toronto
Published Saturday, August 4, 2012 8:54AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, August 4, 2012 8:24PM EDT
Pounding soca music and a flurry of feathers wound their way through Toronto streets during the internationally renowned Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival grand parade on Saturday.
Carnival goers were out bright and early and kept the party going well into the evening.
Participants in the 45th annual event danced under an extreme heat alert with temperatures hovering around 30 C for much of day. The humidex hit 41 C by late afternoon.
“I am so hot,” one man told CTV News, as he slowly made his way along the parade route dragging a pair of giant sequined wings behind him. “This costume is about 1,500 pounds, it is insane,” he exclaimed.
Among the estimated 800,000 people who took in the parade was Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina. She enjoyed the festivities in a sparkling, skin-bearing costume complete with giant wings and a white feather halo.
“It’s the atmosphere in the air, it’s a great street party,” she said.
The 3.5-kilometre parade got underway at 10 a.m., beginning at Exhibition Place, and wrapped up shortly after 6 p.m.
Lakeshore Boulevard between Strachan Ave. and Colborne Lodge Rd. was blocked off for the event and was to remain closed until 6 a.m. Sunday.
In the wake of recent gun violence in Toronto, the weekend’s carnival saw an increased police presence.
More than 600 private security staff workers were hired to man the parade. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he would add about 450 additional officers in the downtown core during the carnival and a further 350 uniformed officers were on hand for Saturday’s parade.
Of the thousands of visitors streaming into Toronto for the carnival, several said that was reassuring.
“It looks like they have a lot of security. They’re assuring us, taking steps to be safe. As long as we’re smart we should be OK,” said Melissa Green, a visitor from Boston.
Quanda Jarrett from Philadelphia said she was more focused on her personal recipe for a good time: “Shake, jiggle, smile, that’s it,” she said.
However, recent shootings in the city were on the minds of some festival goers.
“I'm feeling happy but not too safe," Michael Messoom, who originally hails from Trinidad, told The Canadian Press. "Looking at the crowd it's a little small," he said
Toronto police said they didn’t expect this weekend’s festivities to be marred by violence.
“We will be there in sufficient numbers to ensure that it is safe,” said Mark Pugash, Toronto Police Service’s manager of corporate communications.
“It is to make it safe, it is to make people feel safe, and it is to send a clear message about what the community’s expectations are about the carnival,” Pugash told CP24.
An outbreak of gun violence, highlighted by a public shootout that left two young bystanders dead and more than a dozen others injured, sparked outrage in the community and prompted politicians to vow to find an end to Toronto’s gang problem.
In the wake of the shooting, carnival spokesperson and organizer Stephen Weir announced that spectators watching Saturday’s parade from the 20,000 bleacher seats would have their bags searched for illegal and dangerous items such as drugs, alcohol, weapons and possible projectiles.
He likened the searches to bag checks patrons would receive at Blue Jays or Maple Leafs games.
“If it makes people feel better, then that’s great and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t,” he told CTV Toronto last week.
For two festival goers, the bag checks provided an added sense of security.
“Following the recent activities that happened in Scarborough I think it’s just great to double check that everyone is safe and it’s going to be a good time with no violence,” one woman told CP24.
Her friend added, “We don’t want something horrible to go down. We came here to have fun. We don’t want any troubles whatsoever. I didn’t have a problem with it at all,” she said of the bag checks.
The carnival is one of Toronto’s largest outdoor summer events and the largest festival of its kind in North America.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Ashley Rowe and files from The Canadian Press