“The Caribbean Carnival in a nutshell is a celebration of freedom,” explains Michael. “The name obviously stems from the Caribbean. Way back in the 1800s, slaves were not allowed to partake in the European celebrations at all and were suppressed from celebrating their own cultures as well. After emancipation and the slaves were free they could celebrate these, but it was also a celebration of freedom as well.” Michael went on to explain that the carnival stems from Trinidad and has been growing ever since.
The Carnival has been a celebration worldwide with more than six located across Canada. The Lethbridge event was started by Michael, his wife Renee Ketcheson, and their sons Julian and Malique. As members of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, they noticed a large representation for many cultural groups but not a whole lot for the Caribbean, so they worked to create more recognition in the community. Just like many other not-for-profits, CariBridge faced a few challenges getting the event started. Being a volunteer-based organization, they faced some struggles such as securing donations and advertising, but the biggest struggle has been getting people motivated to come check it out. “The biggest challenges I have at least noticed in this modern age is getting people mobilized and try to get the people out to celebrate,” says Michael.
Throughout the interview, Michael could not stress enough how important the volunteers are for the event and to CariBridge. “Volunteers are the life-blood of this event. We would really like to treat them well because we know their time is valuable,” he says. CariBridge’s board members - Cheryl Fujikawa, Genevieve Saunders, Connor Saunders, Renee Ketcheson, Chris Harvey, Joe Matthew, Julien Todd and Michael Todd - are all volunteers from the community.
Michael was very excited to tell me some of the events the biennial carnival had planned for this year. “Going off last year, which was a great success we wanted to make it even better. We are hoping to have some performers from overseas; we have two lined up - Colin and Andre. We have local artists as well, the global drummers, some local singers, and some dancers both locally and from Calgary. We also have a fire breather coming to the event as well,” he explains. Along with these great performers, they plan on raffling off a trip to the Caribbean as a door prize.
Michael hopes this event means as much to the community as it does to him. “Coming from the Caribbean to Canada, where it is difficult to find someone who looks like you or shares some of the same values, was a little challenging at first... even to get a haircut I had to go to Calgary. After growing up and having kids I wanted them to experience some of my culture and it was so difficult to take them back to the Caribbean and show them. Eventually I thought, we need to bring that mountain closer to us.” Shooting for the stars, Michael hopes the popularity of the event continues to grow, and he hopes one day it could even be as popular as the Toronto Carnival.