Samuel “Sam” A. Cole, Vice-Principal/ Educator/ Co-Founder of Caribana, Chair of Executive Committee
Born: Trinidad, West Indies
Sam Cole was born in the island of Trinidad and attended the University of the West Indies for a bachelors degree and eventually an MBA.
Before Trinidad and Jamaica led the charge in becoming independent of Britain 50 years ago, countries in the Caribbean formed a federation consisting of provincial and federal governments, much like Canada. This federation started in 1958 and was called the West Indies Federation. Its capital was located in Trinidad. Sam was an official in the West Indies Federation, holding the post of Permanent Secretary. However, the Federation ended in 1962 due to Jamaica wanting to pursue independence on its own.
With Federation over, Sam decided to come to Canada. He went into teaching while in Canada, eventually going on to become the vice-principal of a Catholic school in Toronto.
In Canada, Sam remained very active in the Caribbean community making connections with other West Indian immigrants. This is perhaps how he came to be the first Chair of the Executive Committee of the first Caribana in 1967, which was originally part of a weeklong festival in honour of Canada’s Centennial organized by the Caribbean Centennial Committee (CCC) called Caribbean Centennial Week. There are different stories as to who coined the term ‘Caribana’: some say it was Fred Hope and others, Sam. The origin of the name, however, is maintained to come from a merging of the words “Caribbean” and “Canada.”
Sam’s role as Chair was to do the work of organizing and putting on the festival itself. He worked over 9 months to do so. The first parade took place on August 5,1967 and was led by a police offer on horseback. At first, there was a great deal of apprehension about Black people taking to the streets, as it was the Civil Rights era and at the time, Toronto was a very conservative place with few parades save the Santa Claus Parade. Though smaller than its contemporary iterations, the Caribana ’67 parade still had a fairly large number of participants totaling over 1000 people.
The CCC broke even, making back its original costs of $40,000 and attracting over 50,000 people. Toronto Mayor Dennison urged Sam for the festival to continue every year and Sam and the other board members agreed. Thus, Sam is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying: “ We made a few mistakes, wasted a little time and money.., But it was worth it. It’s been very successful and next time we’ll know what pitfalls to avoid. One will be to forget any attempt to raise contributions or assistance from businesses.” Despite the support from some, many were hesitant to give money to the festival. This problem of financial support for the festival would continue for many years.
It was during subsequent Caribanas that differences in vision occurred between some of the board members. Sam wanted to push for the organization to be more Trinidadian-focused, as the model for Caribana was based on the Trinidad Carnival.
By 1969, Sam left the Executive Committee of the CCC which was renamed the Caribbean Committee for Cultural Advancement in July 1967.
He eventually got involved in forming the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Toronto, which was interested in other cultural pursuits.
Sam is currently a member of the present Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ontario and resides in Mississauga, Ontario with is wife Ira.