Cariwest Festival brings local Caribbean community together for the 37th year

The Edmonton Cariwest Festival will take on a hybrid format this year. Patrons can expect a variety of ways to engage in light of pandemic-related challenges.

The Edmonton Cariwest Festival is like a family reunion, according to Samantha Alexander and Danielle George.

Both women have been attending and involved with the festival since childhood. Samantha Alexander attended the very first Cariwest Festival 37 years ago and has taken part in it almost every year since. The festival celebrates the rich cultures and histories of the 13 countries that make up the Caribbean.

Danielle George’s father was part of the team that put on that very first Cariwest Festival, and she now manages the steel band whose performances she watched as a child. Samantha Alexander now serves as the VP Marketing and Sponsorships with the Western Carnival Development Association, the organization which now runs the festival.

The impact of the Cariwest Festival on the trajectory of these women’s lives is just one testament of its significance and value to the local Caribbean community. It’s a yearly opportunity for the local Caribbean community to connect and to share their culture with Edmontonians of all backgrounds, explain George and Alexander.

“It really is a time of year when I can really embrace the Caribbean culture,” Alexander explains. “I mean, it’s around me 365 days a year; but this weekend in particular, over the years, has been a chance to connect.”

The 37th annual Cariwest Festival is scheduled to take place from August 6-8, 2021. This year, Cariwest has partnered with Central Social Hall to put on the “Big People Party,” which will provide a space for attendees to share in some food and drink while watching festival performances. The popular parade will be held in a currently undisclosed community location, in accordance with previous pandemic protocols.

Like last year, much of this year’s festival will be virtual. In 2020, Cariwest was forced, along with other local festivals, to figure out a way to operate in a COVID context. This year’s festival will go on as originally planned when heavier restrictions were in place. Some performances will be streamed via Facebook and Youtube. “Lime in a Box” kits, consisting of various Caribbean snacks, drinks, and Cariwest merch are also being sold for patrons enjoying the festival from home.

“We’re looking forward to presenting our virtual format this year. We’ve partnered with three different video production companies to help us present our virtual show,” says Alexander.. “We really think it’s going to be a top-notch performance, and something that we can utilize for years to come… it’s something that we’ve invested heavily in.”

The Edmonton Community Foundation is a Gold Sponsor of the 2021 Cariwest Festival, with a $12,000 commitment. These funds contribute to the Festival’s impressive flexibility and capacity for dreaming big. While reshaping Cariwest for the pandemic was a challenge, the increased virtual accessibility has had the benefit of bringing in patrons who wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity to see the festival; and this is just a taste of what the future might hold for Cariwest.

“It’s a chance to reconnect. It’s a chance to learn as well. We look forward to just making it bigger and better every year.”