Monday’s parade in Toronto was more than just a joyous celebration of the Raptors’ victory. It was a glimpse of today’s Canada. The throngs that gathered to cheer their team were the image of the country’s future: youthful, full of life, energy and hope, stunningly diverse. More than all the earnest slogans – “Diversity our strength” (snore), “The world needs more Canada” (ick) – the scenes on the city’s streets spoke of Canada’s success at accepting and absorbing people from all over the planet. Every background, every language, every country was represented on those packed streets – and no one gave it a second thought.
Canada’s rainbow reality is taken for granted by those who are living it. Yet, what a miracle it is. Out of a colonial dominion in the forgotten corner of an empire has emerged something wholly fresh and different. The millions who have arrived in this country from other shores have transformed and rejuvenated this country.
You could feel it among those crowds on Monday. The atmosphere was simply electric. Everyone was grinning like mad. Everyone was feeling part of something big. Canada’s 150th birthday was a church tea compared with this blowout.
Families with strollers and little kids came downtown. Mothers and daughters walked hand in hand. Lawyers from the nearby courts and hospital workers wearing green scrubs joined in. Packs of whooping young dudes spilled out of the subway stations into the streets. About half of the city’s school children seem to have played hooky. Old folks, toddlers, teenaged girls in ripped jeans, businesswomen in heels – everyone was wearing some article of Raptors merchandise in black, purple, red or grey.
“The vibe is crazy,” a dad in a Kawhi Leonard jersey exclaimed into his phone, marvelling at it all. “I’m trying to find me some Lowry, okay?” said a young woman, pushing through the mob in hopes of getting a glimpse of Kyle Lowry. A goateed guy perched on a flatbed truck offered 10 bucks to the fan who could yell “Raptors” loudest. “This is my city,” he explained. “Heck, ya!” Well, “heck” wasn’t the exact word he used. A little girl sat on her dad’s shoulders and waved a sign that said: “World champions, make noise.”
And they did. As the team bus travelled through the underpass beneath the train tracks into Union Station, the walls echoed with an almighty din. On University Avenue, the city’s broadest, most formal boulevard, the roar bounced off the office buildings on either side. Nathan Phillips Square, the huge plaza outside Toronto’s dramatic City Hall, positively erupted as the team finally took the stage after their long, slow, ecstatic procession. The famous “Toronto” sign beside the reflecting pool was so swamped with bodies that only the tops of the letters were visible. “This is the best city, the best country, the best team in the world,” one guy said, seizing a TV reporter’s mike and practically swallowing it in his enthusiasm.
A shooting on the edge of the square was the one, terrible flaw in what had until then been a perfect day. It sent hundreds running for safety. But even this could not eclipse the beauty of what had gone before.
Not just the whole city, but the whole country came together over the Raptors. Jurassic Parks sprang up from coast to coast as the country watched, riveted, while this unlikely gang from all over clawed its way into the Finals and on to the championship. Millions more watched on screens in living rooms and sports bars, chewing on their nails and screaming their heads off.
Sometimes, people say Canada has no personality, no identity. It is merely a hotel country – a comfortable place to live, nothing more. That seemed foolish and cynical amid Monday’s happy madness. Whatever their origins and differences, all hearts were as one on the streets of Toronto, united in pride and jubilation. For a day at least, we were family. It was a sublime feeling. Let’s hold onto it.