Day of the Dead dazzles Harbourfront Centre

A woman wearing traditional Day of the Dead makeup and costume looks at a crowd of people. (Photos by Kasia Henley/Sheridan Sun)


Death is often associated with dark colours, sombre faces, and a quiet reverence for the deceased.

Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead ceremony is anything but.

Stepping into Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto last weekend, visitors were immediately bombarded by colour. Intricate designs are cut into paper streamers that adorn every doorway. Ofrendas, or altars honouring the dead, were covered in flowers, figurines and alcohol. Performers dressed in costume and wearing elaborate makeup paraded the halls, pausing for photographs from the slew of people holding cameras.

There are vendors selling Mexican treats and bread, and face painting stations with lineups that clogged corridors. There were mariachi bands, traditional dancers and churros. Conversations are mostly Spanish, and they’re light-hearted, with laughter ringing through the rooms.

So much for sombre.

Festival-goers take pictures of ofrendas – altars honouring the deceased.

And yet, despite the visual overload of the over-the-top decorations, there was a sense of respect. Danny Newton and his family have been coming to Harbourfront for the past three years to pay respect for family members who have passed.

“My abuela (grandma) passed away a couple of years ago,” Newton explains. “We come here and we pay our respects as a family, together.”

A candle among skulls at an ofrenda.

The Newton family emigrated from Mexico to Canada almost 25 years ago; Newton and his sister Marisa are both first generation Canadians. But the family flies down to Mexico at least once or twice a year to visit other family, including their abuela before she passed.

“We knew she was sick, and we managed to fly down to see her one last time. She passed away while we were down there,” Marisa says. “It was horrible. But it’s nice we can pay our respects here in Canada even though we’re not down in Mexico.”

Vendors selling authentic Mexican food were at the venue.

Indeed, that seemed to be a common theme: Mexican-Canadians celebrating a traditional festival here in the Great White North. That sense of creating a little piece of “home” in a country 3,622 kilometres away. Even though Newton was born in Canada, he’s visited his parents’ hometown of Guadalajara many times, and speaks mostly Spanish at home. To him, Canada may be where he lives, but Mexico will always feel like home.

“I grew up speaking both Spanish and English, but my parents’ first language is Spanish, so that’s what we stick with. I honestly feel like I have more ties to Mexico in terms of culture. I love Canada, I was born here, but (my hometown of) Guadalajara will always feel more comfortable for me.

“Day of the Dead here makes me feel like home.”


About Katherine Henley 0 Articles
Kasia is a second year journalism student at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. When she's not working on a story or filling out Wordpress bios she enjoys watching hockey, binging Netflix, and catching up on sleep whenever she can.