Grad catches de vibe as a masquerader in Saturday’s Caribana parade

York grad Ruth-Ann Gordon (BA ’08) will be feeling de vibe, jumping and playing mas, as she participates in this year’s Scotiabank Caribana Festival parade along Lakeshore Road Saturday. It’s the fourth consecutive year for Gordon, but it will be her first time as one of the frontline masqueraders wearing a larger costume adorned with orange sequins, feathers and leaves topped with a brilliant headpiece.

Becoming involved with Caribana was one of the things that helped Gordon feel at home in Toronto, far from her Caribbean roots; the second was the multicultural nature of York University. “My York experience made it so much better – the mix and the culture there, and I met so many people from other Caribbean countries. That helped me feel comfortable and integrated in the country,” she says.

Ruth-Ann GordonRight: Ruth-Ann Gordon donning one of the backline masquerade costumes. The frontline costume she’ll be wearing during the parade will be even more grand.

Gordon, who emigrated from Jamaica with her family in 2001, first went to Caribana as a spectator, encouraged by the Caribbean friends she met while studying linguistics at York. The passion of the event, the rhythms of the music – soca, calypso and steelpan – beckoned for her to do more than just observe from the sidelines.

“It’s a different feeling when you participate than just watch,” says Gordon. “It’s a whole bringing the Caribbean culture and food together – the idea of spreading the culture” that’s important about Caribana. Participating heightens that experience.

As she has for the last three years, Gordon will jump with the Louis Saldenah Mas-K Club band. “They’re a pretty popular band.” They’re also like a family. “They get to know you and really take care of you.”

The way it works, she says, is a decorated truck blasting soca music will hum along the 3.5-kilometre parade route from the Canadian National Exhibition to Park Lawn Road, while the masqueraders dance, run, jump or walk alongside. “The parade is the main thing,” says Gordon. The overall theme for the Louis Saldenah band this year, which is the third band in the parade, is portraits, and each of the 15 sections has its own sub-theme. Gordon will jump in the autumn-themed Xpats section.

She is hoping the band will win first place this year for its costumes. It has won second place for the last three years, although it has won Band of the Year a total of 15 times in its 30-year history. “With the colours and the sections this year we have a pretty good chance,” she says. The judging will take place at the CNE Saturday.

Earlier, Gordon appeared at the Scotiabank Caribana official launch in Dundas Square to showcase the costumes and kick off the festivities, and at the Scotiabank Caribana gala dinner at the Liberty Grande.

During her time at York, Gordon also became involved in the University as a member of the Community of United Jamaicans and with the York University Black Students’ Alliance, and volunteered to help disabled students. As a musician, she played violin in the York University Symphony Orchestra.

In the near future, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in speech therapy. She’s already helping kids at summer camps with speech difficulties.

For more information about Caribana and the various events happening until Aug. 13, including tomorrow’s parade, visit the Scotiabank Caribana Festival Web site.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer