Carifiesta Montreal—Carifête in French—is one of the city's more engaging parades, a July tradition since 1975 celebrating Montreal's Caribbean community and carnival style with beautiful costumes, steelpan performances, and vibrant personalities taking part in the procession.
Organizers expect up to 500,000 people lining Ste. Catherine Street for the Carifiesta 2018 parade, which will take place on Saturday, July 7, at noon. Expect the carnival 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 some live shows and free entertainment.
Carifiesta's parade moves along Rene Levesque and ends at Rue de Bleury You can catch a great view of the parade anywhere along the route or even walk in it by applying in advance on the official website.
Celebrating Caribbean Canadians
Carifiesta is much more than an excuse to celebrate on a hot summer's day. Themes of emancipation and freedom are at the forefront of 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 carnival traditions schedule just before the Christian observance of Lent like in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, or even Greece, carnival time comes in the thick of summer in Montreal since Lent usually occurs in the coldest part of winter in Canada. Considering this is 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.
Besides, Carifiesta isn't really a pre-Lent observation in the first place. Instead, Carifête is a celebration of Montreal's Caribbean communities and perhaps a reminder that not too long ago, many ancestors of these community members were enslaved. Furthermore, their slave "owners" did not let them join in those pre-Lent celebrations.
A Reason to Celebrate: History of Carifiesta
With that in mind, Carnival's and Carifiesta's roots lie in emancipation, freedom, a chance to symbolically take back what too many ancestors lost. It's also an opportunity to honor various island cultures and even Central and South American communities which contribute to Montreal's multifaceted and multicultural nature.
Carifiesta is the largest Carribean street parade in North America, which got its start in 1974 when the nonprofit Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association first hosted the event in honor of Montreal's large Caribbean population. Since then, the parade has grown in size from year to year, and although there have been some organizational conflicts, the event has taken place all but two years out of the last 40.
Montreal's Carifiesta isn't the only one of its kind in North America (or the rest of the world), Caribbean Street Parades exist in many cities around the United States, Canada, Mexico, and South America—as well as some places in Europe and Asia with large Caribbean populations. If you can't make it to Montreal for this year's carnival, be sure to check out one closer to you if you want to get in touch with the Caribbean heritage of North America.