'A piece of Barbados' energizes Toronto's waterfront
September 7, 2019
Returning to Canada for the annual Barbados on the Water three-day event at Harbourfront was, in a sense, a homecoming for singer/songwriter Leigh Phillips and 2018 Miss Universe Barbados Meghan Theobalds.
They attended university in Ontario and resided in the country for a few years.
Phillips graduated in 2012 from York University with an undergraduate degree in International Development & Spanish while Theobalds completed her first degree studies in Marketing and French two years later at Western University.
“I had one of the best times in my life when I was at York and it is always nice to be back here,” said Phillips who was a head girl at Combermere High School. “I met so many people from so many backgrounds and I will never forget the fun times I had attending the university’s Black Student Association events and eating rice and peas which made me feel as if I was in Barbados.”
She was introduced to York through the Emerging Global Leaders Program (EGLP) that’s a two-day retreat of workshops, activities and presentations, offering leadership training with a special focus on cross-cultural communication and team building.
The award-winning program was first offered to Caribbean students in Barbados 15 years ago.
“I had the opportunity to come to Canada in 2008 for the first time through the EGLP and I fell in love with York and the campus,” noted Phillips who had a successful 10-hour corrective surgery in Trinidad & Tobago in 2004 three years after being diagnosed with scoliosis.
Her visit to Toronto last month was two-fold.
A participant in Honey Jam Barbados in 2015, Phillips – who started singing at age three -- is the first Barbadian alumna to participate in the show’s Canadian version.
Produced by Phemphat Entertainment whose executive director is Ebonnie Rowe, Honey Jam – which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year -- provides educational, networking, mentoring, promotional and performance opportunities for aspiring female artists across Canada and Barbados.
“Aside from her amazing talent, I chose Leigh to represent my Honey Jam brand and for other opportunities because success in the music industry is unrelated to talent alone,” said Rowe. “She has presence, smarts, passion and drive in addition to being highly intelligent and educated. I can count on her to show up, be on time, be professional and she recognizes opportunities and makes the most of every experience.”
At two years of age, Phillips moved to Barbados from Grenada with her parents after her father – Chiron Phillips is a petroleum operations and health & safety professional – was assigned to Barbados.
“We never left,” said the entertainer who released her first full-length album, ‘Queen’ while in Toronto.
The album has nine tracks.
“It’s is about the way in which self-perception changes your life, the way you see your friendships and deal with problems and ultimately the manner in which you handle love and life,” she said.
After graduating from York, Phillips spent a few years working in Toronto as a manager at Cash Money before returning home.
It was during her employment in the city that she had a chance meeting with Drake.
“One of my friends is a cousin of Zoe Kravitz (the actor, singer & model is the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) who was performing at a show in the city and she invited me to attend,” Phillips recalled. “After the show, we went to dinner and Drake was there sitting right across the table from me. I am an artist and I should have been able to approach him, but I had nothing to show at the time. We engaged in some small talk, but I didn’t tell him I am a singer. I was star struck. I took a picture with him and that was it.”
Convinced by a Western recruiter that the southwestern Ontario university is the place she should be, Theobalds made the Dean’s Honour’s List in 2013-14 and lifelong friends.
“The university has a great reputation and a school spirit which is something I value a lot,” said the Queen’s College graduate who has two rescue dogs and is passionate about gender equality. “I met three people who are now my closest friends while I was there and it was through Western that I went to France and met another lifelong friend who is here at the festival this weekend.”
After graduating five years ago, Theobalds spent a year in Montreal prior to going home.
Always seeking challenges, she entered the 2018 Miss Universe Barbados pageant last September.
“I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” said Theobalds who is fluent in French. “The way I approached it is that if I didn’t win, I still will gain some soft skills that would help me in other areas of my life. On the other hand, if I am successful, it would be quite the journey which, luckily, it has turned out to be.”
The Barbados representative at last December’s Miss Universe in Thailand said her brief pageant career ends with the completion of her reign this month.
“The whole experience taught me that I am more resilient than I thought,” she said. “It’s now time to move on to the next chapter in my life.”
Theobalds is pursuing a Master’s in Integration Studies at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus.
Like Phillips and Theobalds, mixologist Philip ‘Casanova’ Antoine isn’t a first-time visitor to Toronto, having featured at previous Barbados on the Water events.
Ask him about the pleasure he derives promoting Barbados and his face lights up.
“I always wanted a job where I could get to travel the world and experience various cultures,” he said. “I have been to Toronto a few times for this event and just relish the atmosphere.”
Unable to raise funds to further his education in interior designing, Antoine turned to bartending.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had a passion for this,” he pointed out. “One day while I was behind the bar serving some ladies, they told me I am true gentleman and a real Casanova. I did some research to see what that meant and liked the moniker.”
What is the key to mixing a delicious cocktail?
“The important thing is creating a drink that’s palatable for each individual,” said Vincentian-born Antoine who relocated to Barbados with his parents at age nine. “Do you like something that is tart, sweet, fruity or savoury? Once I get the answer, I create a drink that best suits their liking.”
His favourite cocktail is Amaretto Sour.
“I like the tartness and there’s a bit of sweet combined with that nutty flavor that makes it pop for me,” said Antoine. “I love it.”
Being a mixologist is just part of the 2016 Barbados Angostura ambassador job.
“First of all, you need to be a people person and someone who is outgoing which is what I am,” he added. “Sometimes, you have to mix a medical remedy, be a shrink for someone having problems that they want to share with you and also be very knowledgeable about sport and politics to engage people in conversation. In this profession, it’s not about money alone. You have to love what you are doing.”
With headliners Arturo Tappin, who graduated from the Berklee College of Music and has performed with Roberto Flack and Anita Baker, and calypsonian Red Plastic Bag who holds a record 10 Pic-O-de-Crop titles, Barbados on the Water 2019 featured some of the best entertainers the island has produced in addition to other cultural expressions.
“We are using this event to get people to come to Barbados to have a holiday and we are doing it by showing you the way that we live,” said High Commissioner Reginald Farley. “There’s nothing here this weekend that doesn’t happen in our country. You will have an opportunity to taste what we eat, experience our drinks, particularly our rum, hear our music and listen to the way we speak in our comedy as we have our conversations. You will also see our harmony. This is a piece of Barbados for you. We have brought the weather and the only thing we couldn’t deliver is the white sandy beaches.”
Nearly 35,000 people attended last year’s event.
Barbados Tourism & Marketing Inc. (BTMI) Chief Executive Officer Billy Griffith, Guyanese-born BTMI and Barbados Tourism Product Authority Chairman Sunil Chatrani who is the 2019 Caribbean Hotelier of the Year, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Elizabeth Thompson and Minister of Tourism & International Travel Kerrie Symmonds attended this year’s festivities.
Symmonds said the government is seeking to offer nationals returning home and visitors a refreshed experience.
“There have been expressions of interest for the building of new hotels, many of them potentially luxury-type,” he said. “Along with those new hotels come a recognition of our Town and Country Planning Act which facilitates a level of development that Barbados never before has had. No longer will you have a ceiling put on the height of a building like a hotel at about six or seven storeys. At certain select points across the island carefully chosen so that we do not lose the inherent island appeal, we will now be able to have 20 storeys.”
At the opening ceremony, Symmonds used the opportunity to encourage Bajans in the Diaspora and friends of Barbados to contribute to nation building.
High levels of government debt and shrinking foreign currency reserves forced the Barbados Labour Party government to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.
“Barbados has struggled mightily over the last 18 months in order to overcome 10 consecutive years of economic and fiscal decline,” he noted. “Our trajectory is towards growth and we want, as a government, to get into that growth pattern as deeply and quickly as possible and disconnect ourselves from the IMF because, along with that program, comes an understandable degree of financial hardship for the people of the country.
“To make it happen, we need your support as we can’t do it alone within the confines of 166 square miles and with 300,000 people living on the island. I confidently believe that we can get out of this. I want you to come home next year and give us whatever time you have to help us to continue to build out the economy. That will help to add to the thing we call ‘tourism spend’ but, above and beyond that, it creates opportunities for philanthropy. We need that for the development and expansion of our hospital and education sectors.”
Barbados’ Consul General in Toronto Sonia Marville-Carter along with BTMI Canada director Peter Mayers and his team, which includes Business Development Officer Brita Greaves, were instrumental in the successful staging of the event that’s the largest celebration of the island’s culture in Canada.