Carifiesta Montreal—Carifête in French—is one of the city's more engaging parades. A July tradition since 1975, it celebrates Montreal's Caribbean community and Caribbean Carnival with beautiful costumed carnival dancers, steel drum performances, and vibrant personalities taking part in the procession. In addition to the parade, the festival features DJs and live music, mas band competitions ("mas" meaning "masquerade",) Caribbean-style street food, and art for purchase.
This year, Montreal is celebrating the 45th edition of Carifiesta. Organizers expect up to 500,000 people lining Ste. Catherine Street for the Carifiesta 2020 parade, which kicks off on Saturday, July 4. Expect the parade to last at least two hours, with plenty of parties around the city happening after the main event. You can also drop by the Montreal Jazz Festival's outdoor perimeter before and after the Carifiesta parade to catch even more live shows and free entertainment.
Carifiesta's parade moves along René-Lévesque Boulevard and ends at Rue de Bleury. You can catch a great view of the revelers anywhere along the route, or even join the parade yourself by applying in advance on the official website.
Most of the details surrounding the event haven't been released yet; continue to check their website for the latest updates.
Celebrating Caribbean Canadians
Carifiesta is much more than an excuse to celebrate on a hot summer's day. Themes of emancipation and freedom are woven into an event that's about taking back what was stolen from the ancestors of Montreal's Caribbean community.
Colorful costumes, vibrant music, and copious exclamations of joy and dance come with the territory. But unlike other carnival traditions, which happen just before the Christian observance of Lent in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and even Greece, carnival in Montreal comes in the thick of summer, since Lent usually falls in the coldest part of winter. Considering what winter looks like in Montreal, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone crazy enough to don flesh-baring carnival costumes in subzero weather.
Weather conditions aside, Carifiesta isn't really a pre-Lent observation in the first place. Carifête's celebration of Montreal's Caribbean communities serves as a reminder that, not so long ago, many of the community members' ancestors were slaves whose owners who did not let them join in any pre-Lent celebrations.
History of Carifiesta: A Reason to Celebrate
Because Carifête's roots lie in emancipation, the Carifiesta Carnival is a chance to symbolically take back what too many ancestors lost. It's also an opportunity to honor various island cultures, along with Central and South American communities, all of which contribute to Montreal's multifaceted and multicultural nature.
Carifiesta dates back to 1974, when the nonprofit Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association (CCFA) hosted the inaugural event in honor of Montreal's large Caribbean population. Since then, the parade has grown in size every year, and although there have been some organizational conflicts, Carifiesta has been held all but two years since its inception.
Montreal's Carifiesta may be the largest Caribbean street parade in North America, but it isn't the only one of its kind. Caribbean street parades exist in many cities around the United States, Canada, Mexico, and South America, as well as in areas of Europe and Asia with large Caribbean populations.
Other Carifiesta Events
Carifiesta Montreal hosts a whole roster of events leading up to the big parade, beginning with the Junior Kiddies Carnival parade. Held Saturday, June 27, this family-friendly festivity is for children between the ages of two and 16.
Other popular events include Montreal J'Ouvert, which has its roots in Trinidad and Tobago. Starting at 6 a.m. the morning of Carifiesta, this street party kicks off the day's festivities with plenty of steel pan musicians to get you excited.
You can continue celebrating Caribbean culture by heading to Parc Jean-Drapeau for the city's annual Jamaica Day festivities, which is held on the same day as Carifiesta. Hosted by the Jamaica Association of Montreal, this day-long event features Reggae music and a whole lot of dancing.