TORONTO - A couple of high profile shooting rampages in Toronto appeared to have put a slight chill over the city's annual Caribbean carnival this year, festivalgoers and vendors said on Saturday.
Although the centrepiece parade boasted the usual vivid display of colours and pageantry, there appeared to be fewer spectators, said those came out to watch the spectacle and police officers who were handling security.
July's shooting rampage at a community barbeque and June's shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre were on the minds of those who did come out.
"I'm feeling happy but not too safe," said Michael Messoom, a forklift operator who originally hails from Trinidad, who admitted he was worried about the recent streak of shootings.
The shooting at the barbecue killed two people and wounded nearly two dozen while two died in the shooting at the Eaton Centre, Toronto's dominant downtown shopping mall.
Despite beefed up security at this year's event, safety concerns might have kept people at home, said Messoom, who attends the festival every year.
"Looking at the crowd it's a little small," he said, a sentiment that was echoed by police officers, vendors and people who have attended the event in previous years.
Police, volunteers and private security guarded entrances to the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival, patting people down and searching bags before they entered.
A network of barricades and fences kept the public back from the dancers with glitter-dusted skin and colourful headdresses as they made their way down Toronto's Lakeshore Blvd.
"There's so much fences that I can't hardly see anything," said Ann James, a nurse from Bloomfield, CT., who was trying to find her way to the end of the parade route.
Still, pounding soca music generally left other attendees in a good mood as they waved Caribbean flags and bandannas.
"Today is a day of merriment and happiness in the Caribbean community," said Asker Jones, who came from Montreal for the parade.
Sharlene Reid-Davis was dancing with a giant Canadian flag on a towel.
Although she said she was having fun, she mentioned there had been a shift in the atmosphere. "I came from Ottawa to have fun and it's not like last year."
The festival formerly known as Caribana and touted as the largest Caribbean culture in North America, has had a history of troubles over the years.
Last year, a 30-year-old man from Scarborough was killed and two other people were injured in a shooting that took place along the parade's route.
Toronto police chief Bill Blair announced last week that an additional 456 officers would be freed up to patrol the city's downtown core during the parade.
Other Toronto residents felt safe enough to bring out the whole family.
Tricia Wright, a marketing manager who was with her kids, said she was somewhat concerned about safety. "But not enough to keep me away," she said.
Wright looked on as her kids waved flags with their faces pressed to the fence. "We're keeping close eye on them in case anything does happen."
Festival organizers were not immediately available for comment.