For Petrolia native Tiffany Phillips, the memories of Toronto’s Carnival are vivid.
As a young girl, her mother – who was Jamaican – would pack her and her brother in the car and head to Toronto for the Caribbean festival. “We would watch the parade listen to the music and see all the costumes…I was exposed to it early,” she says.
Today, she graces the cover of the Carnival tourist guide after winning a social media contest garnering over 13,000 votes.
Phillips grew up in Petrolia and went to school here. In 2008, with a degree in biology under her belt and a newly acquired passion for hip hop dance, she moved to Toronto. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, but I knew I needed to go to the big city to do it…to increase my career prospects.”
After working a retail job, Phillips used her biology degree becoming a technician in the operating room of a laser clinic. While she was there, her mother became ill with cancer. Throughout her treatment, Phillips mother encouraged her to go back to school and consider nursing – advice she took. Phillips now works at Toronto Western and Toronto General Hospital.
And even though she was living in Toronto, she didn’t attend Carnival for the longest time. “I didn’t go because it was different not having her here with me.”
After her mother passed away, Phillips thought it was time to take in Carnival again. She bought a costume and became part of the parade which meanders its way through Toronto over a course of six or seven hours. “It’s not always comfortable,” she says “some of the larger headdresses are made of wire…and the wire digs into your forehead.”
Recently, she saw a Facebook contest to represent Carnival on its brochure – Phillips jumped at the chance. Friends in Toronto and Petrolia asked people to vote for her online and beat out eight other women for the honour. She also won a trip to Trinidad for its Carnival, considered one of the best in the world.
“I had people from elementary school and high school, even friends I had not heard from in years voting…it was pretty crazy to see all the people. It was so cool to see the support I was getting from people I hadn’t talked to or seen for a decade – it was awesome,” she says.
“That kind of support you don’t get in the big city.”
While Phillips is on the Carnival brochure cover, this year, she won’t be part of the action – she’ll be working instead. But she has the whole experience has been very positive and one she wishes her mother could have been around to see.
“She never got to see me in costume,” says Phillips. “She was a seamstress and she would have loved it.”