Key Acquisitions: the Fonds of Kenneth Shah

The completion of finding aid for the fonds of Kenneth Shah was completed in 2023. Shah was a founding member of Caribana and the Caribbean Cultural Committee and was involved for more than thirty years with the festival celebrating Black emancipation from slavery. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Shah moved to Canada in 1965 to pursue a career in petroleum engineering. He soon left this profession to focus on carnival arts, costume design and production, and playing an active role in festival planning from 1967 until his death. The collection features photographs, parade costume designs, and other records created by Kenneth Shah that chronicle the roots of Caribana. This festival arose out of a desire by West Indian immigrants to share the carnival tradition of the Caribbean with the dominantly white British and European population of Toronto. It is a culture that celebrates the emancipation of Black people from slavery through Calypso music, dance, and masquerade. The festival was started in 1967 by the Caribbean Centennial Committee, and it became an annual event, the largest of its kind in North America, that attracted more than a million people each year. Kenneth Shah co-founded the festival as a costume designer and mas band manager. The rich archives of photographs, film, and text created between 1956, and his death in 2002 captures the enthusiastic embrace of Trinidad and Tobago’s tradition of masquerade, dancing, and music that evolved from the Caribbean’s celebration of the abolition of slavery.

The work to rehouse and describe almost fourmetres of textual records, 4,000 photographs, and 51 sound and moving image recordings was completed in 2023 by archivist Emma Thomas.

Originally published in the York University Libraries Impact Report (2021-2023).


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