Toronto’s annual Caribana festival forced to find a new name after court ruling

Marc Weisblott
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

The 44-year-old annual Toronto Caribana festival is looking for a new name after a trademark ruling by the Ontario Superior Court.

The popular mid-summer long-weekend parade and the other related events have been forced into the change by the original founders, who argued they hold the right to the name, but no longer run it.

A change of identity might be welcome, though, based on the challenges the festival has faced despite being estimated to pump more than $400 million into the local economy. What began as a small ethnic parade, to celebrate the Canadian Centennial in 1967, got too big to be managed effectively.

Moving the parade from the central downtown streets to the lakeshore was deemed a necessary move by 1991, but it was later blamed for dampening public enthusiasm for the event, even if crowds of around one million were still estimated to turn out to watch gyrating masqueraders accompanied by live music played on 18-wheel trucks.

The generations who grew up being taken by their parents to the parade had a diminished interest in the sounds of a steel band. Some attempts to integrate hip-hop into the event were seen as awkward, like when Puff Daddy had his own float in 1997, and as a shameless promotion for his new album.

Budget woes continued to plague the event despite studies that showed it brought 400,000 visitors to Toronto each summer. The disorganization, which included disputes over the official name of the event, also made government funding tougher to secure.

The idea of returning the parade to Yonge Street, as pondered in the media, got sidetracked amidst the trademark war. Meanwhile, criticism grew the Caribana events did little to reflect the diversity of the actual Caribbean.

A new brand for Caribana, then, could help it look to the future rather than the past.