Jamaicans Celebrate Independence Week-end at Toronto’s Jerkfest


Jerkfest, the biggest food festival of its kind in Ontario, Canada, was staged on Saturday and Sunday (August 8 and 9) at Centennial Park, Etobicoke, on the outskirts of the city of Toronto.
On Saturday, featured artistes were Frankie Paul and Georgia, delivering to a very gratified crowd who braved the rain armed with their umbrellas.
Paul, a veteran and versatile reggae star, did several songs including “Sarah”, “I know the Score” and “Worries in the Dance”. The Kendrum Youth Steel orchestra, and limbo dancers from the African Rythmn Society added variety to the programme.
Sunday’s entertainment featured Canadian smooth jazz artiste, Eddie Bullen. Jay Douglas and his Allstars band brought the festival to a close.
The annual event has the continuous support of a wide range of sponsors, including: Sandals Resort, the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Jamaica National Building Society, Western Union, Rapid Remittance, MoneyGram and Maple Lodge Farms.
Now managed by Caribbean Promotions Arts & Culture Inc., a non-profit organisation, ‘Jerkfest’ has become one of the “must do” events of the summer and, according to founder Anthony Plummer, “we certainly enjoyed the opportunity to bring our people together.”
Jamaicans in the Diaspora have taken many positive aspects of their culture with them, such as their music and cuisine, to remind them of home, as well as to blend into the ethnic mix of their new environment. And, so it is in Toronto, where the Caribbean Jerk Food Festival emerged in 2003. It has since evolved to become ‘Jerkfest,’ one of the highlights of the summer season for many Jamaicans residing in Canada.
The idea to stage a jerk festival was the brain child of Mr. Plummer, a teacher and entrepreneur, and his friends Rosemarie Rankine and Roy Peters.
“We did some research and looked at how our people spent their time during the summer months, and we discovered that, after being indoors for most of the winter season, they really enjoyed outdoor activities during the summertime,” Mr. Plummer said.
In its first year, it was called the Caribbean Jerk Food Festival, and was staged at the Brampton Chinguacousy Park. But, after its initial success, the innovators decided that “jerk” was more Jamaican than Caribbean, hence the change to “Jerkfest” in 2004. After six years at Chinguacousy, it was relocated to Centennial Park.
He also explained that from the onset, Jerkfest became different things to different people: to some, it was a chance to savour the best of jerk foods in Toronto; to others, it was a chance to reunite with friends; while there were others, who came simply to soak up the sun and the atmosphere, browse through the craft village, take their children to the kids’ fun zone and visit the beer garden.
Speaking with JIS, Public Relations and Marketing Director, Ophellia McKnight, said that a friendly rivalry has developed between vendors, and each year there is a contest to produce the best ‘Jerk’, whether the meat is pork, chicken or ribs. Trophies are presented to the winners.
“Jerkfest is the biggest food festival of its kind in Ontario and the attendance over the past two years has grown exponentially,” she stated.
It started out as a one-day event, but it was extended to two days, to facilitate more people and introduce the finer side of “jerk”, she explained. It was also necessary to include activities that Jamaicans found interesting, hence the introduction of a domino tournament, which has become a crowd pleaser.

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