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Sophie Van Bastelaer joins thousands of people who gathered in Toronto to stand in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, Saturday Jan. 21, 2017.

Melissa Renwick/Melissa Renwick

They're not ready to put away their protest signs and pink knitted hats just yet. Emboldened by larger-than-expected turnouts for anti-Trump rallies across Canada on Saturday, organizers say they're counting on marshalling the protests' momentum into long-term action.

Tens of thousands of Canadians took to the streets from coast to coast in the wake of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, joining together to defend women's equality and other causes seen as under threat by the 45th U.S. President.

Many are now asking what's next, and whether a one-day protest can be converted into continued activism.

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Organizers say yes. "This is just the beginning," the Canadian contingent of the Women's March on Washington wrote Sunday on its Facebook page.

Related: After Women's March, organizers vow to sustain pressure on Trump administration

Tabatha Southey: A new generation gets a taste of the intoxicating power of protest

Read more: Highlights from the Women's March on Washington and worldwide

Organizers in Canada say they were taken aback by the size of the crowds in their individual communities. When Deb Parent filled out the form for a permit at Queen's Park in Toronto for the Saturday march, she wrote that she anticipated 3,000 participants. Some media estimates put the crowd at 20 times that number.

"I believe this is a new wave unlike anything we've seen before," she said on Sunday. "It wasn't so much anti-Trump. It was about who we are and what our values are."

The U.S. organizers of the march on Washington, which brought together an estimated 600,000 people, have already started pivoting toward the future, announcing a new campaign dubbed 10 Actions for the first 100 Days, referring to President Trump's days in office.

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Canadian organizers say they believe there has been spillover from President Trump's ascent to power, and Canada isn't immune to some of the intolerance and anti-immigrant messages heard south of the border. Ms. Parent cited the rhetoric of Canadian figures such as Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, who has called for screening immigrants for Canadian values.

"While yes, the presidential inauguration was the flashpoint, we can see the edges of racism and xenophobia coming here."

Alia Hassan-Cournol, who organized Montreal's rally, says various groups who took part in Saturday's event have already been in touch about their next move.

"This is the beginning of a movement. We don't know exactly what form it will take, but we are going to sit down together and think about how we're going to work together," Ms. Hassan-Cournol said. "We can't just sit back with our arms folded, in a wait-and-see attitude."

Organizers said they were struck that the rallies grew out of grass-roots initiatives and brought out a diverse group of Canadians. In Vancouver, Lisa Langevin, an electrician, said she became a first-time organizer when she started putting together Vancouver's march only 2 1/2 weeks ago. She, in turn, was struck by the range of people who were motivated to turn out on Saturday.

"My circles do not identify as activists. Before this, many didn't even realize they were feminists," Ms. Langevin said. But President Trump's disparagement of women and minorities "galvanized" people on both sides of the border, she said.

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"To me, it wasn't just about Trump, it's about the attitude he's giving oxygen to, the attitudes he's normalized," she said. "Regular citizens are not okay with these attitudes. These attitudes exist in our own country. We can't point a finger across the border."

Still, observers say it's too soon to say whether the mobilization on the streets of Canadian communities will coalesce into a sustained protest movement or perhaps have a political impact.

Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, a non-partisan group advocating for more elected women, says the marches sent a crucial message to Canadian political leaders about support in the country for "equality for women in Canada and around the world."

"Feminist goals are often characterized as being divisive in nature, and yet I don't think we saw that in any of the marches," Ms. Peckford said.

Still, she added, Saturday was only the first step.

"If we only take yesterday for what it was, then it isn't sufficient," she said. "The very heavy lifting involved in connecting women to the formal political sphere goes well beyond a march. It's great, it did send a message, it's powerful for what it was. But it certainly is not enough."

The Globe speaks to some people in the midst of the Women’s March on Washington to find out what motivated them to participate.
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