Peter Marcelline

Peter Marcelline, City Planner/ Co-Founder of Caribana, Member of the Executive Committee
Born: Princess Towne, Trinidad

Peter Marcelline was born in Princess Towne, Trinidad and the product of Catholic parents. He was the ninth child of ten, growing up in a large close-knit family. Peter had a happy childhood doing everything country boys did – making tops and pitching kites -because his family couldn’t afford to buy toys. He received a good primary education and went to the prestigious St. Mary’s College in Trinidad for high school.

Peter applied for three universities and got accepted to all three of them. In the end, he chose to go to Canada because he felt it had a better standard of education than the United States. Moreover, he did not want to study in the United States because of its racism. Since Blacks couldn’t vote in the US in the 1960s, Peter did not want to live in a country where he couldn’t vote. Thus, he chose Canada despite its discriminatory immigration policies.

Peter was the first of his siblings to go to university. Growing up Peter loved geography and attended the University of Toronto in 1960 to study Urban Geography. While in university, a professor suggested that he study city planning. Thus, Peter pursued a masters in City Planning and graduated in 1964.

Peter worked for the City of Toronto for 30 years as a city planner, working in collaboration with city engineers, transportation workers, parks and recreation people, social workers, architects and urban designers to come up with city plans. He was attracted to planning because it is a multi-disciplinary profession.

Early on in his career as a City planner for the City of Toronto, Peter became one of the founders of Caribana. He knew Romain Pitt, George Meikle, George Lowe, and Dr. Alban Liverpool. It was Alban who suggested Peter was a good fit for the group and that he should attend the first planning meeting. Peter went to the Old Firehall in Adelaide in December 1966, and became one of the members of the Executive Committee of the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC).

Peter used his City connections to plan the logistics of the first Caribana parade. Peter was responsible for planning the first route going from Varsity Stadium down University Avenue to Nathan Phillip Square, ending with a reception at City Hall.

Neither Peter nor the other founders expected the parade to ever happen again, but when they were begged by the Mayor of Toronto to keep doing it they agreed. However, they were not given the money to do it. In order to put on a subsequent Caribana, Peter and six other members of the CCC, such as Charles Roach, Alban Liverpool, and Romain Pitt, had to dig into their own pockets to come up with the money because parade could not meet its expenses, relying heavily on gifts and its few sponsorships. As a consequence, they approached many banks and were only approved by the Royal Bank of Canada for a loan of 33,000 dollars. Scotiabank, which currently sponsors the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival, at the time, did not look at the CCC twice. They considered it to be too much of a risk and would not approve a loan.

In order to secure such a large loan, the members had to put up their houses and other assets as collateral. Peter and his wife had just purchased their first house, and Peter was forced to put it up as collateral. While these members have never been formally repaid, many consider it part of their contribution to an achievement they were proud to support, the impact of which on Toronto’s economy would be outstanding.

Others such as the Liverpool brothers – Hermes Selwyn Liverpool a business administrator who founded the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal and Dr. Samuel Allan Liverpool a dental surgeon who eventually went on to found the sister organization in Toronto in 1968 – donated their personal money as well. Thus, it is interesting how the private sector, which was not willing to support the historic parade in the early days, was so willing to co-opt it at present.

Peter stayed on the CCC board for a long time, longer than any other member, becoming Chairman over 5 times, because he felt proud to take part in Carnival and ‘making mas.’ It was part of the culture he grew up with and wished to cultivate in his adopted home of Canada.

During his long career with the City, Peter became very involved in the union. Originally, City Planners were not allowed to be in the union. Peter took part in organizing a local unit of the union, Cupe Local 79, eventually becoming an executive board member. He chaired committees such as the Bargaining Committee and pushed for some of the benefits for City workers, such as sick benefits, vacation pay, and leave for caring for sick family members.

Peter has sometimes been called a communist because he attended a ‘Solidarity for Cuba’ meeting in 1994 and was very involved in unions. While Peter believes wealth should be shared by everyone, he does not believe in communism because the theorists behind it were not writing for African people.

As a city planner in Toronto, Peter was involved in working to keep Kensington Market alive on two separate occasions. First, when it was almost destroyed by Toronto Hydro and second when it was threatened by George Brown College. As part of the preservation effort, he helped organize small business owners to resist and is proud to have played a part in keeping such a historic part of Toronto safe from developers.

Peter has three children, two girls and a boy, and two grandchildren. He is currently retired and lives in East York.

WHO INSPIRES YOU?
My parents. They pushed to get us an education and open doors for us to become better people. We all got a good education – 5 out of 10 children went to university, and this was back when there was no money for that and had to grow their own food because they couldn’t afford groceries.

WHY DO YOU DO WHAT TOU DO?
My mother was involved in community work, giving and sharing her time, so I take from her example.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?
I admire a lot of people so I don’t want to exclude. People like Malcolm X, Franz Fanon, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro. I also went to school with a lot of Africans and I liked a lot of the things they said.

” If you want a young man to become a communist, send him to school in the States. If you want a young man to become a capitalist, send him to school in Russia.” -African student

From a Nigerian Igbo student who went to school in Nebraska hearing the US national anthem: ” Land of the free if you’re white, and home of the brave if you’re Black.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK?
I have hundreds, but right now, on my shelf in front of me is The Books of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.

GIVEN THE CHANCE, WHAT WOULD YOU DO THAT YOU HAVE NOT DONE YET?
Go to Africa. My grandmother on my mother’s side is Yoruba, so I would go to Nigeria.

See the Founders of Caribana here