Bejewelled Bras

Like finely-tuned athletes limbering up for a race, hundreds of women in bejewelled bras and iridescent headdresses jig and sashay on the spot to a cacophonous wall of sound.

Dancers at Toronto’s 46th annual Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival apply a last sprinkling of glitter to their torsos in the event’s assembly room at Exhibition Place, as intestine-shaking reggae and soca music blasts from dozens of speakers strapped to flatbed trucks.

For Gemma Nicholson, 64, this is the tenth year she’s taken part in the carnival parade. Today she’s dressed as an octopus, with eight crimson legs sprouting from the elaborate costume that took four months to make.

“For me, this is a time that I can forget my everyday cares, and enjoy myself to the fullest,” she says smiling, the black and red sequins crinkling on her face.

And just as importantly, Nicholson says the carnival allows her to retain a connection to the country she left over 40 years ago.

“I left Trinidad and Tobago when I was very young,” she says. “And while I’m proud to be Canadian, it’s still important for me to not forget my roots.”

But conversely the carnival is also an event that can help grow roots.

Canadian-born Kenya Hyman, a 17-year-old from Ajax, is another of the estimated 16,000 dancers taking part in Saturday’s parade.

She explains that while her parents are Jamaican she has yet to visit the country herself.

“So the carnival helps me appreciate the Caribbean culture,” she says. “And even though I haven’t visited yet, it makes Jamaica feel a little bit like home.”

The largest festival of its kind in North America, the Carnival drew more than 900,000 people last year says Denise Herrera-Jackson, one of the event’s organizers.

“The event started in 1967 on what was Canada’s 100th birthday,” says Herrera-Jackson. “So the carnival was a gift that the community gave to its new adoptive home.”

The organizer says there are approximately 500,000 people in the GTA who belong to the Caribbean community, mostly from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.

“This event is meant to be inclusive, it’s meant for all Canadians,” she says. “And thankfully you don’t need a translator to dance and move your body.”

Herrera-Jackson says the carnival ultimately complements Toronto’s rich and multicultural fabric.

And Jason Rude, and his wife Mona, agree.

The Midtown couple has brought their two young children to experience a small slice of Caribbean flavour.

“We visited Jamaica just seven months ago, and we fell in love with the music and the Jamaican love for life,” says Jason.

“And who doesn’t love jerk chicken?” adds his wife laughing.