The Toronto Dyke March is a storied institution, but this year, organizers altered the formula. For the first time, the march was rerouted to direct participants into Allan Gardens for a post-march rally. It's a model used by similiar marches in cities like Chicago and Ottawa and appeared to be an instant hit.
At least 1,000 people arrived at the park for chants — including "Our Pride is political. Let's get critical" — and music. Many sprawled out under the trees as the Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers kicked off the festivities.
Davina Hader, a volunteer wearing a Pride Toronto T-shirt, was all smiles.
"It's a way to keep the momentum going. The march generates a lot of positive energy, so it's great to have a place for that to continue," Hader says.
This may come as a surprise to queer women in other parts of North America, but for years, Toronto's Dyke March had no rally at all. Last year, it tested the San Francisco Dyke March model, with a rally before the march, rather than after. That's the format used by the Toronto Trans March.
"Each event has its own flavour, and the Dyke March has a grassroots, community flavour, which is representative of the history of this event," says Pride Toronto board member Susan Gapka. And that means a rally makes a lot of sense for the Dyke March. "We showed that we can do amazing things. We showed that yesterday [at the Trans March], and we showed that today."
A similar trick is being tested for Sunday's Pride parade. The parade, the biggest of its kind in Canada, usually ends in a confused bottleneck, with participants emerging onto the already crowded Church Street. This year, the parade will end at Yonge-Dundas Square, where there will be a stage and entertainment, and participants will likely spill over into the nearby Ryerson quad, a new location for the 519 Church Street Community Centre's annual TreeHouse dance party.
Pride Toronto has been experimenting with new routes and venues since 2010, when it won the bid to host WorldPride 2014. They're engaged in a tricky balancing act as they try to hit on a way to accommodate WorldPride-sized crowds without alienating locals.
The Dyke March rally was not without its hitches. An anti-gay evangelist threatened to disrupt the proceedings shortly after 3pm, but he was quickly removed.
"We glitterbombed him and forgave him. And then the ole Boys in Blue took him away," said participant Dianne Moore, laughing.
Indeed, police escorted him to the edge of Allan Gardens amid cheers from the crowd. He continued to engage skeptical passersby on Carlton Street.
A gloomy weather report didn't stop crowds from gathering to watch the Dyke March, and they were rewarded with sun instead of forecasted rain. The march kicked off slightly after 2pm, and as usual, it was led by Dyke on Bikes – also known as The Amazons – a boisterous group of women on motorcycles. This year, they were followed by dozens of women on a different kind of bike: bicycles.
On the whole, the Dyke March was a powerful demonstration of unity, Hader says.
"It's just awesome. It's so empowering and wonderful," Moore adds. "It just doesn't get any better than this."