Festival City! Toronto alive with joy

Wild blueberries, Schlooples and the vibrant celebration of Caribbana liven up Toronto.

Wild blueberries, Schlooples and the vibrant Caribana celebration liven up Simcoe Day long weekend in Toronto. (Photos by Julia Pelish and Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Story by Julia Pelish and Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Editors

TORONTO, ONTARIO — As anyone who lives in Toronto knows, the city offers a megaload of activities on any given weekend. The Simcoe Day long weekend is one of the most fun-filled of the summer. Highlighted by the 46th annual Caribana Parade (now called the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival), the weekend also features the opening day of the month-long Wild Blueberry Festival, the start of the Rogers Cup women’s tennis tournament, the Veld Music Festival, the Grove Music Festival, the Scarborough Ribfest, the Summer Classical Music Festival, and Artfest in the Distillery District — and those are just the most notable events.

Vacay.ca team members will be visiting a handful of these events during the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, we were at Caribana on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds and the Wild Blueberry Month festival at Evergreen Brick Works.

Caribbean Carnival in Toronto

It’s billed as the largest Caribbean celebration in North America and close to 2 million people descend on the city each year. Caribbean music — from soca to reggae to calypso — is blasted from trucks that circle around Lake Shore Boulevard while parade-goers decked out in skimpy but ornate costumes dance on the scorching asphalt in the middle of the day — just as they would if they were on a beach at night in the islands.

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Roughly 300,000 people of Caribbean origin live in Toronto and during the Caribbean Festival hundreds of thousands of more descend from around North America, primarily from New York City. The parade is similar to the Mardi Gras-style festivals that take place in the Caribbean, particularly in Trinidad & Tobago, with food vendors lining the parade route to sell coconuts, jerk chicken, plantains, and other flavours from the region. (Read the Vacay.ca article on the 2013 Trinidad Carnival.)

The parade, though, is hardly the only focus of the revellers. Long ago, Caribana weekend became known as one of the hottest party times in Canada. The nightclubs in the Entertainment District are jammed with crowds in a sexy and raucous homage to island life. The weekend can be violent as Torontonians know, but the police presence in recent years has curbed some of the wildness. If you’ve never been to Caribana, this is a terrific weekend to get out and enjoy, even if only to taste some of the delicious Caribbean food.

The festival generates $200 million in economic activity and is one of Canada’s most important multicultural celebrations.

Wild Blueberries Liven Up the Brick Works

On Food Day Canada, Donna Dooher of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen demonstrated her cooking skills and the bounty of Ontario produce at Evergreen Brick Works as Wild Blueberry Month kicked off. Dooher made Shpooples, her invented name for very fluffy and blueberry-ie pancakes, and espoused about the importance of using local ingredients.

A pioneer of the local food movement, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in Toronto’s Queen West area focuses on a regional menu served in a bright, airy room. Dooher was out front at Evergreen Brick Works to boost the profile of this local-food festival. Wild blueberries are very versatile in recipes, they work well in both savoury and sweet dishes. After the Shpooples, she prepared a main course of lean seared duck served over slow-cooked polenta and topped with a wild blueberry green peppercorn chutney. Samples were devoured practically as soon as they were plated.

With wild blueberries in season, we are able to take advantage of more than just their taste, Dooher points out. They have abundantly high levels of “blue” antioxidants and are just as healthy when frozen as they are fresh. They will retain their nutrients when stored in a freezer for up to two years so stock up on them in August to enjoy all year. “Enjoying local fresh food keeps us connected to the environment,” says Dooher, who advocates cooking from scratch for optimum enjoyment and health.

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Dooher is relaxed, warm and funny, and you can clearly see how much she enjoys being creative in the kitchen. While cooking, Dooher also entertained with other insights on life inside and out of the kitchen. Highlight phrases: “Stingy in the kitchen, stingy in the bedroom” and “ovens are like lovers, they have their hots spots, you just have to get to know them” and “Saturday and Sunday are calorie-free days.” Being Saturday, guests took that as a hint to pop a few more Shpooples into their mouths.

Wild Blueberry Month continues with several more foodie events. Among them are: the GE Cafe Chefs Series (Tuesday, August 13, 6-9 pm) with Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth of Edulis (the No. 19-ranked restaurant in Canada) preparing wild blueberry dessert and serving wine tastings from Bachelder; pizza nights on Wednesdays with wild blueberry pizza from Pizzeria Libretto; and the fourth annual Wild Blueberry Festival Celebration Day on Tuesday, August 25, where you can be one of the judges at the Wild Blueberry Pie Bake-off.

A photographer who has worked in the largest media markets in Canada and the U.S., Julia’s travel photos and videos have been featured prominently in the Toronto Star and been exhibited in galleries in Toronto, New York and Vancouver. Her new line of photo jewelry was inspired by her travels. Even though she is an American, one of her favourite travel experiences was spending Canada Day 2000 on Parliament Hill, joining in a parade with then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and others. Julia is Vacay.ca’s Visuals Editor. See her work at www.juliapelish.com/blog.

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