By Will Campbell, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - Huge crowds lined the streets for Toronto's pride parade Sunday as the always colourful gay and lesbian festival took on more of international flavour this year.
Many watching the parade go by clutched umbrellas to ward off the hot sun and also block water gun squirts from the more than 12,000 marchers who organizers say registered for the event. They walked more than a dozen city blocks to the cheers of spectators.
Among the first making their away along the parade route, happily waving flags from distant nations, were international marchers. This edition of the tourist-drawing shindig stretched over 10 days and was designated as a WorldPride event by an international LGBT group â€” the first North American festival to get the nod.
Kenneth van Emden came from the South American country of Suriname to attend the festivities, which included a human rights conference attended by hundreds of delegates.
He said the festival is a testament to Canada's openness and that he will use some of the things he learned at WorldPride back home, where he runs a gay rights group.
"We are born with rights. And whenever you are free to enjoy those rights it's the best. And I think Toronto WorldPride gives you the best opportunity, at this moment, to enjoy it and just live freely," he said.
"It's very important to bring people all over the world together, people who in their country don't have the opportunity to speak out, to have a voice. And I think this platform gave people from around the world a voice in the fight (for) getting acceptance" and battling intolerance back home.
This is the 34th year of the festival, and Pride Toronto co-chair Sean Hillier says it's looking to be the biggest one yet, with record numbers of marchers and streets "overflowing" with spectators at the numerous events. Many spectators showed up hours before Sunday's parade to get a good spot.
Hours before the festival-capping parade got started, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne â€” Canada's first openly gay premier who is fresh off a victory in this month's provincial election â€” told reporters the international attendees have been the highlight of the pride celebrations for her.
"I think what's really been wonderful is so many people from countries who do not have the freedoms that we have had the opportunity to experience this. I've had so many people come up to me and say 'it's just amazing that you can be so out'" with your sexuality.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and top New Democrat Thomas Mulcair were also in attendance Sunday. Though their parties are locked in a tough battle for a downtown Toronto seat in one of four federal byelections set for Monday, they shook hands as the crowd cheered them on at a morning pride event.
The multi-coloured pride flag was everywhere during the parade, and many in the crowd thrust out their smartphones to snap pics and take videos as each float slowly rolled by them.
Brittany Langevin came with some friends from Cambridge, Ont., about an hour's drive outside Toronto, to join the huddle of parade watchers. She said the event reflects the Canadian cultural staples of tolerance and getting along.
"I think that it just shows that Canada, we're so diverse. We're not really a melting pot â€” we're really a mosaic where all these cultures and different people come together, and really everybody can be different and we all accept each other."
"Everybody here â€” not everybody walking by is part of the gay community. But everybody's supportive."
Follow @willcampbll on Twitter