Dr. Joseph “Al” Alban Liverpool (1919-2005) – In Memoriam,
Doctor, Veteran, Co-Founder of Caribana, Chairman of Board of Governors
Born: Chili Village, St. Vincent
Al Liverpool was born on September 18, 1919 in Chili Village, St. Vincent to a farmer Samuel Liverpool and his wife Elfrida. The family had 10 children and Al would work on the farm to help his family while still going to school.
He first left St. Vincent to join the armed forces in Canada and fight in WWII. Though some questioned why he would agree to fight a war that had nothing to do with him, Al knew the war would affect him wherever he lived. When the war was over, Al returned to Canada and joined the Canadian Officers Training Corp, graduating at the top of his class in 1953.
While in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Al met a woman named Elaine, who had moved from St. Vincent and settled in Halifax. He married her and would stay married for almost 60 years.
Shortly after, Al and Elaine moved to Montreal, and began attending McGill University and was elected President of the Pre-Medical Society and the West Indian Society. In Montreal, Al and Elaine would open their homes to visitors and newcomers from St. Vincent and different parts of the world. In 1955, he received a degree in Medicine from McGill.
A year later, in 1956 at the age of 37, Al and Elaine came to Toronto. His application for internship having been refused by two hospitals because of racism, with the help of some nuns he was able to secure a place at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Al did so well there he won the Intern of the Year Award.
After his internship ended, Al became a doctor at Doctor’s Hospital, which was dedicated to serving immigrants in their own language. He also formed his own full service private practice called the College Euclid Clinic, where he employed other West Indian doctors.
In 1966, he became one of the founders and Chair of the Board of Governors of the first Caribana which started when the West Indian community was asked by the federal government to make a contribution in Toronto to Expo ’67 taking place in Montreal for Canada’s Centennial. In December 1966, Al and many of his peers came together to plan the contribution at Old Adelaide Firehall. West Indians from all over the Caribbean, Barbados, Antigua, St. Vincent and Trinidad attended, making it a truly a Caribbean event. The group talked late into the night and decided to bring Carnival, based on the Trinidadian model to Toronto, as Carnival was considered representative of the Caribbean.
They eventually formed the Caribbean Centennial Committee (CCC) and put 21 board members in place so there would be no shortage of people to do the work. The organization was split into a Board of Governors chaired by Al which contributed vision and advice through different subcommittees focusing on the business, cultural, promotional and social aspects, and an Executive Committee chaired by Sam Cole, responsible for administration.
Many Caribbean governments such as Jamaica and Trinidad offered artists and covered their transportation costs. Moreover, many local community members and businesses offered donations and supplies, eager to volunteer their time. With support from City of Toronto’s Mayor William Dennison, the CCC decided to host the event on Olympic Island and make it a week-long celebration. The Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors, Archibald Bastien, a professional engineer originally from St. Lucia, worked diligently with city workers to provide power to the island.
The CCC called the event: Caribbean Centennial Week. It was to be “An Exhibition of West Indian Trade and Cultural Achievement to Commemorate Canada’s Centennial.” Al was instrumental in organizing the funding, securing a grant from Consumer’s Gas of $1000 to go towards the event. He especially put in a lot of money from his own pocket into the festival. The CCC eventually applied to become a non-profit organization incorporating on July 28, 1967. They named the new organization the Caribbean Committee for Cultural Advancement.
The Caribbean Centennial Week took over 9 months to plan and was held August 5-12 1967. It opened with the Centennial Ball at Casa Loma featuring Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
The first Caribana parade of bands of costumed masqueraders took place August 5, 1967, and began at Varsity Stadium, making its way down University Avenue, heading to a reception at City Hall and finally leading onto the docks. Participants only paid around $10 for their costumes with the rest of the cost being subsidized, as Al held that many of the masqueraders were maids or clerks and could not afford more.
Other highlights of Caribbean Centennial Week included the Governor-General of Jamaica Sir Clifford Campbell making an appearance and Derek Walcott, future Nobel Laureate, performing his plays with his Trinidad Theatre Workshop at the Central Library.
Due to the overwhelming success of the Caribbean Centennial Week , it was extended one more day to Sunday August 13, 1967, with the closing day setting a record for ferry use with over 35,000 people in attendance.
Caribbean Centennial Week was quoted to be “one of the first grand public statements of the West Indian presence in Canada,” and was so successful Mayor Dennison requested it become an annual event in Toronto.
Caribana today would not have existed if it were not for the enthusiasm and hard work Al and his colleagues put into making the first parade a success. Al stayed on as chair of the Board for the second Caribana, Caribana ’68, with many different community members taking the reigns after that.
In 1975, Al went to the Bahamas as a foreign black medical staff coordinator at the Princess Margaret Hospital enduring much prejudice and resentment. Next, he went to Barbados to practice medicine, providing a specialty in allergies sorely needed in the region. People came from far and wide, even other islands to seek his care, which proved very rewarding for him. He maintained his license to practice medicine until 1997.
Al died on May 8, 2005, leaving his wife Elaine and grown children. Al died on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, V-Day, in the Year of the Veteran. As his experience during WWII so impacted him, he was buried in his army uniform.