History of Toronto Caribana -Barcode Saturdays

History of Toronto Caribana

The Caribana Carnival is a vibrant celebration featuring a spectacular display of Caribbean costumes, sounds, and colors that engulfs the streets of Toronto. Scheduled every year during the first Saturday of August, the carnival commemorates the full Emancipation of enslaved people in Canada in 1838. But what started as a one-time celebration has transformed into the largest cultural festival in North America that attracts tourists from far and wide.

The carnival has come a long way from its first-ever edition, where it all began during the Canadian Centennial celebrations in Ontario’s capital city. Millions flock to Toronto to witness the staggering display of Caribbean cultures and traditions. Drawing people from North America, the Caribbean islands, and from as far as Europe, the Caribana carnival is a major force today and amongst the most recognizable festivals in the world.

While here, you can see costume dancers and participants dance with mas bands as you’re exposed to the various gifts of Caribbean music, including social, Calypso, chutney soca, reggae, r&b, hip-hop, and dancehall music as well as sounds from steelpan instruments. You can also try some of the island’s savories like jerk chicken, roti, black pudding, roasted fish, rum cake, and more.

But to know the cultures of today, one must be well-versed in the traditions of yesterday. In this blog, we’ll look at the rich and diverse history of the Toronto Caribana Carnival and how it all started 56 years ago.

Toronto Caribana: A Timeline

The festival takes place during late July and early August to coincide with Emancipation Day and its commemoration for the abolition of slavery in British colonies. The spirit of the carnival was always the Grand Parade through the streets, which signifies the celebration of freedom from enslavement.

1967: Origin of the Toronto Caribana Carnival


The year 1967 saw Canada’s Centennial celebrations, where the municipal, provincial, and federal governments joined hands to promote a flurry of special events and projects. Complimenting the authorities’ efforts, various other communities started to plan their own events. This was where the Caribana Carnival was born, meant initially as a week-long festival for the Caribbean community in Toronto.

A committee was formed of doctors, lawyers, teachers, a town planner, and Caribbean emigrants who started planning the festival, modeling it after the Trinidad and Tobago celebrations. The community soon announced the maiden Caribana ’67 week that was to kick off on July 12. The planned event was set to include a series of performances including steelpan and calypso bands, dance celebrations, club parties, films, acts, a fashion show, a Caribbean fruit and vegetables market, and a Caribbean Queen contest.

A parade was announced, going through the Varsity Stadium down University Avenue to the city hall and then towards the docks. The carnival-style parade was declared open for everybody who wished to join in. The first Grand Parade saw 50,000 people turn up to the streets.

The 1970s: Early Years

The first five years saw the carnival in its nascent stage, where it was still trying to appease the West Indian community. The festival slowly started gaining support from the local populace and attracting Caribbean leaders and musical artists to supplement the parade. There were several unsuccessful attempts to merge the carnival with other small celebrations as well.

Slowly but surely, the festival started growing in attendance as more and more people flocked to the city from North America and the Caribbean islands. The ’74 & ’75 editions saw the addition of the Carnival Ball and the King and Queen Showcase, respectively.

80s and 90s: Establishment Years

The 1983 edition of the carnival saw a footfall of 250,000 people and was seen as the first significant success of Toronto Caribana. The budget and the number of attendees kept growing throughout the decade, as did the list of events. Toronto Caribana was now taking the shape of a full-fledged street carnival.

By the 1990s, the Toronto Caribana Carnival was a significant contributor to the city’s economy as it continued attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists from North America and Europe. As this decade went by, the carnival gained a reputation worldwide, with millions of attendees visiting the city during the Caribana weekend. This time also saw an increase of international artists alongside Caribbean performers that popularized the event further.

2000-Present: The Modern Years

Since the 21st century, the carnival committee has consistently tried to promote and recruit more participants, believing that today multiple cultures define the city of Toronto. This, along with the ease of international travel, has made this carnival a hit in North America and Europe as more and more people make their way to be part of this epic carnival.

In 2010, the Ontario Science Center announced the innovation in Mas awards to recognize the most creative carnival costume design. The community inclusion program started enrolling post-secondary universities in the costumed pageantry as the festival’s focus shifted from Emancipation to a celebration.

In the past decade, the carnival has been given a celebrity boost, with many renowned personalities taking part and honoring it with their own parties, the most notable names being local-born sensation Drake and NBA legend LeBron James. In its 52nd edition in 2018, the name and logo of the carnival changed. Every year, we see costume designers and musical artists upping the ante of the festival to make it grander and grander with the passing years.

Be Part of the Largest Cultural Celebration in North America

If you are yet to visit the epic Toronto Caribana Carnival, now is the time to do so. The carnival will return this year in August on an epic scale and is set to be louder and crazier than ever. Witness all the highlights of the carnival, from the Grand Parade to the amazing Carnival Ball first-hand.

As the day turns into the night, head to the most happening Caribana party in town; at Barcode Saturdays. We celebrate the spirit of the Caribbean islands in style with a premium party at our luxury nightclub.

So what are you waiting for? It’s not to be missed.