T&T at 50: Toronto
By Raynier Maharaj, writing from Toronto
The thoughts of Trinidad and Tobago President George Maxwell Richards echoed through the celebrations in Toronto of the Republic’s 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, marked here with a number of key events.
President Richards, in his Independence message, had asked, “We have become modern, but are we civilised?”
“Without intending to steal our joy, I am constrained to warn that we are nurturing generations of children who are allowed not to take responsibility for their actions.
“We are making too much room for non-thinkers, who take the easy, clever way out, once patronage, in any form, is available. We deserve much better."
Promises not fulfilled
Erica Williams Connell, the daughter of T&T’s founding father Dr Eric Williams, the nation’s first Prime Minister, made similar observations at an Independence Gala at the elegant Westin Harbourcastle Hotel in downtown Toronto, where she was a special guest.
Ms Williams Connell said that, in her opinion, the country had not fulfilled the promise of Independence or the vision of her father for the country.
Her remarks were scathing, but she was hailed as brave by many who attended the function.
“While Eric Williams was alive and, arguably, at no time since, Trinidad & Tobago owed its unrivalled reputation of harmony to the apparent ability of a number of races, colours and creeds to live together in relative tranquility," she told her audience.
“Since my father’s demise, however, the ugly spectre of race has consistently raised its head in our polyglot society with existing tensions exacerbated as political parties often seek to stake out their ethnic turf and to emphasize our differences rather than to celebrate our similarities,” said Ms Williams Connell.
Flags and calypso
The gala was held by a organisation calling itself the T&T Heritage Group, and it was an unofficial event, not sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago government.
In addition to Ms Williams Connell, other specially invited guests included former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and head of the Tobago House of Assembly, Orville London.
The Mighty Sparrow was among a list of elite performers which included a number of Toronto-based Trinidadian artistes.
The gala was the first event to mark T&T’s 50th here.
It was followed by a flag raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall by Consul General Dr Vidhya Gyan Tota-Maharaj, where the red, white and black flag was hoisted in the plaza outside the iconic buildings, and a reception hosted by Dr Tota-Maharaj at the Mississauga Convention Centre.
Both events were held on Friday, the actual anniversary of Independence.
Dr Tota-Maharaj also presented a specially built steelpan to the City of Toronto as a gift from Trinidad and Tobago, and interestingly, the city councillor who received it on behalf of the Mayor was Councillor Chin Lee, who is of Malaysian heritage.
Malaysia also marked its anniversary of Independence on 31 August.
Dr Tota-Maharaj also hosted an interfaith service that caused some controversy, as it was held in a Hindu mandir, as opposed to the traditional church.
She defended her action by saying the mandir was just as good as a church to stage an interfaith service, though some members of the T&T community felt the choice was in poor taste, given the political scene back home at the moment with a government that is perceived by some in Toronto to be “Indo” (Indo-Trinidadian).
The official 50th anniversary of Independence gala will be held on 15 September at the Rembrandt Banquet Hall.
So far, no member of the government of T&T has confirmed their attendance, although reports are that several invitations have been sent out.
In the meantime, members of the Trinidadian community staged their own events to mark the occasion, with one group hosting an Independence boat cruise on Lake Ontario on Sunday 2 September.
The weekend in Toronto also saw one Trinidad-owned restaurant and bar host a series of events to celebrate T&T’s Independence, which included a Saturday night barbecue with a live T&T band and a number of vendors selling all things Trinidadian, from black pudding to souse and doubles.
Trinidadians in Toronto managed to mark their 50th Independence in their own ways.