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Caring about Caribana: Festival connects Annex resident to her roots

September 8th, 2010 · No Comments

Sherrill Sutherland took part in her ninth Caribana parade this past summer. Courtesy Liivi Sandy.

By Liivi Sandy

Spend some time with Sherrill Sutherland and you’ll get an education.

The 25-year-old Annex resident works for CBC News Network, writing about the events that make our city, country, and world tick.

Spend more time with Sutherland and you’ll realize that she’s more than you bargained for. The candid young woman is crazy about more than just news. She has an ardent passion for Caribana.

She was one of thousands of “masqueraders” strutting down Lakeshore Boulevard West in a bikini, belt, and massive elaborate hat this year.

“It’s kind of like an addiction so you do it every year,” she said. “You become a pseudo-famous person for the day.”

Sutherland has participated in Caribana since 2002. She was studying journalism at Carleton University at the time, and was overwhelmed at the possibility of being a part of it. “What if I didn’t fit in? I was excited at the same time—about the party, my culture. I could show my Vincey pride.”

Sutherland was born in Ottawa, and raised in small towns all across southern Ontario. She grew up with her mother and a French-Canadian step dad. Her mother is Irish-Canadian and her father is Vincentian.

“I never embraced my Caribbean heritage because I wanted to fit in,” she said. “I lived in small towns where I was the only black person, or one of very few.”

Her first year in Caribana was exhilarating to say the least.

“No one is judgmental,” she says. “It made me very proud of who I was.”

In 2008, Sutherland started working as an intern at CBC and the CBC was an official sponsor for the parade.

“It seemed like no one [at CBC] knew what the project was about. I was floored, and wanted to get involved.”

Sutherland was eager to share her experience and give people more insight into the two-week event.

“There is art, music … a lot of other things happen other than the parade. I wanted to give an inside perspective. Very few Torontonians know what it is.”

She also wanted to dispel rumours about the violence sometimes associated with Caribana. “Sometimes things get linked to Caribana in the media that are unrelated.”

Last year, her interest in Caribana led to her blogging about her experience during the event for CBC. She was also a guest on two CBC shows, including the radio news show As it Happens. “I became the Caribana expert for CBC.”

This year, she was excited as ever to get on her costume and walk the city for hours, pose for photos, and revel in the celebration that surrounds the parade. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

“My best friend is Polish,” said Sutherland. “She said she wanted to be involved. You’d be surprised how many [non-Caribbean people] there are [participating]”

“I feel like it has become a crucial part of our relationship,” added friend Basia Bukowski. “It is absolutely something we have bonded over.”

“If I missed it I would really regret it,” Sutherland says. “It’s like my summer anthem.”

Tags: People · General