October 20, 2020

Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival mas bands say they deserve more support

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Curtis Eustace prepares a small piece of a major costume at Louis Saldenah’s mas camp on Monday, July 9.

Sterling Hayden, a volunteer with Louis Saldenah’s mas band for 30 years, prepares costume headpieces on Monday, July 9.

BY MIKE ADLER From Toronto.com

City festival ‘could die a sudden death,’ one leader warns

Louis Saldenah, at his Birchmount Road area mas camp on Monday, July 9, leads the largest masquerade band in the Peaks Toronto Caribbean Carnival, and like other band leaders says not enough government support reaches people producing the festival. – Mike Adler/Metroland

As Toronto’s Caribbean carnival launched for the 51st time, masquerade band leaders said they aren’t getting enough financial support from governments.

In a warehouse off Scarborough’s Birchmount Road, Carla Reid had spent two hours on July 9 gluing elastics on armbands for boy’s costumes, and had about two more hours to go.

“After that, I move on to something else,” said Reid, a volunteer for Louis Saldenah’s Mas-K Club.

Though mas bands still draw such dedicated followers, short-term spaces for them are harder to rent in Scarborough, and other costs keep rising.

They continue for love of the culture, but the festival “could die a sudden death if some of the big bands decide to call it a day,” warned Marcus Eustace, leader of Carnival Nationz.

Young revellers join the festivities during the Peaks Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s Junior Carnival launch at the Malvern Town Centre on Tuesday, July 3.

“After this generation (of leaders) falls, I don’t know how it’s going to continue,” added Eustace.

Frustration is building around economic benefits the carnival draws to the city, $438 million in 2009, according to an Ipsos Reid study.

The report found government funding for the carnival was less than one per cent of economic activities it generated.

“Everybody in the city makes money besides the guys that are putting on the spectacle,” said Michael Williams of D’Regulars, a band leader for 35 years.

Hotels are booked months in advance, said Williams, “and the hospitality industry doesn’t give us one penny.”

“Things cannot keep going the way they are.”

Williams said the festival is the biggest and best carnival in North America, but he wishes politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who posed with masqueraders last week in downtown Toronto — would visit a mas camp and “see what it is to put that parade on.”

Marcus Eustace is the leader of Carnival Nationz, one of the Peaks Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s largest bands

Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford, main recipients of its economic windfall, need to give Toronto’s carnival the respect and funding it needs, he argued.

“They need to care about us. We should not have to beg.”

The nonprofit Festival Management Committee (FMC), overall producer of the carnival, gets a Major Cultural Organization grant from the city each year.

This year’s grant to FMC is $625,000, the same as in 2017. The city also waived fees and provided municipal services to FMC last year worth $107,729.

“The city does not provide grants to individual mas bands, as they operate on a membership model and are not primarily not-for-profit organizations,” Tina Hurl-Priestley, a spokesperson, said this week.

Unlike FMC, festival contributors such as the Toronto Mas Bands Association, Ontario Steelpan Association, and the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists can’t approach governments for funds directly.

Government money isn’t filtering down to mas bands and other carnival stakeholders, argued Hayden Harbin, a volunteer for 30 years with Saldenah’s band.

Prize money for producing winning individual costumes — competing at King and Queen events each year — doesn’t cover the cost of making them, said Harbin.

Like some others, Harbin suggested sufficient government funding for the carnival would lead to a permanent headquarters which could serve as a museum and workshop space to train a new generations of leaders.

“After all these years, we do not have a roof over our head.”

Saldenah, whose band is the festival’s largest, said FMC “has to have tougher representation” in dealing with all levels of government.

Proper funding, he said, would expand the festival further and triple the crowds.

Eustace, meanwhile, said he hoped Ford’s new Progressive Conservative government “hears our cries.”

Since he started, the number of band leaders has fallen from 30 “to a measly 10,” he noted.

Bands try to offset costs with sponsors but such deals are reportedly difficult to get because a stigma still surrounds what is now called the Peaks Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

“If you call 100, you may get one,” said Williams, who added the festival must do a better job at expanding its appeal to new potential participants.

IMAGES:

All photos – Mike Adler/Metroland.

For more on this story go to: https://www.toronto.com/news-story/8734965-toronto-s-caribbean-carnival-mas-bands-say-they-deserve-more-support/

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