Ann Granger’s unlikely journey to becoming a carnival stalwart began in a sleepy agricultural community in Ontario, Canada. The town of Binbrook, located 50 miles southwest of Toronto, comprised mostly European descendants when Ann was growing up in the early 1970s. Canada is dubbed the Great White North, and at one time that designation could be taken literally. Binbrook’s population of 3,000 included very few people of color. Ann knew little about the Caribbean, and the carnivals in Canada were mostly the ones featuring Ferris wheels and cotton candy.
But fate would soon intervene, transporting Ann to a tiny volcanic island in the eastern Caribbean and then next door to the Land of 365 Beaches. Ann has won awards and accolades for her designs, and she has stamped a palpable imprint on the pageantry of the festive season. She has cradled the lifestyle of the West Indies . . . and the region has emphatically returned the embrace.
“She is extremely creative and ahead of the other costume designers in conception and execution,” says Chadd Cumberbatch, a prominent designer, actor, playwright, artist and Festival promoter in Montserrat for more than three decades. “Her knowledge and use of different materials makes her work stand out even more.”
So how did a little girl from Canada conquer the essence of the Caribbean through cultural exposition? It is a tale that Ann herself marvels about a half-century later.
DESTINY MEETS OPPORTUNITY
In 1972, Ann’s parents – Gilbert and Rosalie Granger – were both 50 years old and settled into their life in Binbrook. Ann was 10, the youngest of four siblings. While attending a Valentine’s Day party, her parents were chatting with another couple who revealed they had just purchased land on a Caribbean island through a Canadian developer. The Grangers had never heard of Montserrat but were intrigued, so they visited the island the following month with the couple while on holiday.
They loved the Emerald Isle but agreed they would relocate only if Ann liked it as well. So they took Ann to Montserrat that July – and she enthusiastically approved. In November of 1972, Ann and her parents migrated and moved into a property in Spanish Pointe in eastern rural Montserrat, not far from Blackburne (later W.H. Bramble) Airport. They lived in a small cottage while a bigger house was being constructed by Ann’s father. Ann’s siblings, who were already grown, remained in Canada.
Ann did not attend school in Montserrat. Instead, she took correspondence courses with her school in Binbrook. Her parents chose this route in case they decided to return to Canada and re-enroll Ann in school. But Ann quickly assimilated to Montserrat culture.
In 1979 at age 17, Ann opened a T-shirt print shop in Plymouth. However, her venture took a hit when a larger T-shirt business opened just down the street. She then launched the first pet store in Montserrat, selling birds and aquarium fish. Neither business was particularly lucrative, but Ann always exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit.
A CHANCE MEETING
In late 1985, Ann – on a whim – decided to attend a meeting of the Montserrat Festival Committee, which was led by Cedric Osborne.
“I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone,” she says. “By the time the meeting was over, they asked me to build costumes for two of the queen contestants that year.”
Ann had no formal training in art or design, but she possessed creative pedigree.
“My family is very artistic,” she says. “My mother’s father was a sculptor and artist. My father left school when he was 9 years old and became a self-taught contractor. My mom was a seamstress. All of our clothes were home-made.”
Ann enjoyed immediate success when her costume titled “Under The Sea” helped Evonne Bramble win the Miss Montserrat crown. The following year, Ann’s “Pride of Barbados” costume was used by Festival queen Pauline Wall at the Jaycees competition in Antigua.
In 1987, Ann relocated to Antigua when she got a job with Carib Link, a ferry service. That job lasted only a few months before the company folded. Ann returned to Montserrat for Festival that December and designed costumes for at least two queen contestants.
There was no queen show in Montserrat in 1988 or 1989 but the show returned in 1990, and so did Ann. Her costumes included a dazzling, grand design depicting the Oriole and Heliconia, Montserrat’s national bird and flower, respectively.
Ann’s biggest year in Montserrat was 1991. She designed costumes for four of the five queen contestants, including “Rhythm in Blue” for eventual Festival queen Athema Daley. Ann captured the award for Best Costume.
Myrle Roach, a former chairperson of the Montserrat Festival queen show committee, remembers Ann’s work ethic and style.
“She would start with a sketch,” Roach says. “She was like a real architect. Sometimes when she would start the costume, you would look at it and not be sure where she was going. Then a couple days later you couldn’t believe it was the same costume. I have never seen her design anything that was sub-standard.”
TAKING HER TALENTS TO ANTIGUA
In 1992, Ann shifted her focus squarely to the Antigua Carnival scene. Her three decades in Wadadli have brought success and recognition. They have also been beneficial.
“I look forward to Carnival season,” she says. “People ask me if I design for the love of it. I really do. But it has also become a business.”
One of her notable exhibits was a reinvented version of “Miss Goosey” – whom she first revived in Montserrat in 1987. She brought the giant, buxom Caribbean woman to Antigua, and she was an instant hit. Ann took Miss Goosey to several Caribbean islands – including Trinidad for Carifesta in 1992 – and changed her costume each time to fit the occasion. LIAT even used Miss Goosey as a brand ambassador for a time.
Ann continued the theme of larger-than-life women with her tie-dye “Tan Tan Ladies” in 1998. They were inspired by the “Tan Tan” character created in Trinidad by Peter Minshall. “Tan Tan” – a giant animated puppet – was usually paired with a partner called “Saga Boy”. In 2017, Ann unveiled her 10-foot-tall “Paper Dolls”. The Dolls’ attire were altered for Carnival and Antigua Independence and have adorned V.C. Bird International Airport. Ann continued the evolution in 2023 with her “Full-skirted Dancing Ladies”, which she calls one of her favorite creations.
Aside from costume design, Ann owned and operated the photo shop at Sandals Resort in Antigua for 16 years. She currently runs a T-shirt printing business and is a professional photographer who estimates she has shot about 5,000 weddings. Ann is also a mother of two sons. Her youngest, Jadun, is a fledgling entrepreneur and Ann’s right-hand man in the photo and printing businesses and in building costumes. She hopes he continues the family tradition of costume design.
During Ann’s time in Montserrat, her parents encouraged and assisted in her designing ventures.
“My father was my engineer and my tie-wire man,” she says. “My mom made dolls and other crafts for my store and also did the sewing for a lot of my costumes.”
When Ann moved to Antigua, her folks remained at the home in Spanish Pointe. But after the volcanic crisis began in Montserrat in 1995, she brought them up to Antigua. Gilbert Granger died in 2006 and Rosalie passed away in 2010.
Reflecting on 40 years of designs, Ann is forever grateful for her parents’ Valentine’s Day interaction that ended up taking her from frigid Canada to an environment that is the polar opposite.
“I would not have changed my life for a minute,” she says. “I love the Caribbean. I consider myself a real Caribbean woman. I’m so glad my parents took the leap . . . and brought me along with them. They gave me an opportunity for a fantastic life.”