CBC — More than one million people, many equipped with squirt guns, beads and rainbow flags, lined the streets of downtown Toronto Sunday afternoon as North America’s largest gay pride parade made its way through the city’s midtown core.
The multi-coloured floats began rolling at 2 p.m. winding their way down Yonge Street with politicians and celebrities gracing the floats.
And as they have done for the majority of the 30 previous years the parade has been held, “Dykes on Bikes” led the procession with the roar of their motorcycles.
But one man conspicuously absent from the proceedings was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Despite public and private lobbying from many politicians, business figures and other city dignitaries, the city’s first-term mayor said he did not plan to participate.
Ford, the first mayor in 16 years to miss the parade, has faced heavy criticism for skipping the event in favour of upholding what he described as a family tradition of spending Canada Day weekend at his cottage near Huntsville.
Three previous mayors — Barbara Hall, Mel Lastman and David Miller — all attended the annual parade while in office, with Hall attending the first parade as mayor in June 1995.
“I believe in Pride because it says who we are,” former mayor David Miller told CP24 as he marched in the parade. “We are a city that is open to everyone.”
The 31st edition of the event caps a weeklong celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities and culture in Toronto.
Roads in and around the event will be closed for a number of hours throughout the day.
Sunday’s parade, which is known for its spontaneous water gun salutes between float participants and revelers began at Bloor Street East and Church Street and headed west to Yonge Street. It will then head south on Yonge Street to Gerrard Street East and then east on Church Street.
But parties will keep the area around Church Street closed until Monday morning.
The annual event has grown over the years. When it began in the early 1980s, some 4,000 participants took part in the parade. But organizers estimated that the 2011 version featured almost 13,000 participants both marching and travelling on floats.
It is also North America’s largest pride parade and the third largest in the world.
Toronto is slated to host the World Pride parade in 2014.