Thousands of Indo-Canadians and other Torontonians gather for Khalsa Day parade at City Hall in this multicultural city

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At the start of Khalsa Day celebrations in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 30, a crowd of just hundreds seen here swelled within hours into tens of thousands of Sikhs and non-Sikhs from the Greater Toronto Area. (Photo: Aruna Dutt)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, lauding the contributions of the community, told thousands of Indo-Canadian Sikhs celebrating Khalsa Day April 30, that the country’s strength lay in its diversity.

On a cold and windy day, Nathan Philips Square, which houses City Hall, was transformed into a sea of colorful turbans and traditional Indian salwar-kameezes, when thousands of Sikh families gathered to see cultural programs and performances. At the same time, a mile-long parade walked 3 kilometers to come and join those already gathered in front of City Hall to swell crowds to more than 60,000 despite the weather.

“Canada is strong not despite its differences, but because of them,” Prime Minister Trudeau told the crowd which was still gathering. He has joked in the past that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

Numerous stalls served langar around the square, prepared by families and served by children and adults, to the Sikhs and curious non-Sikhs.

Ontario Provincial Police Officer I. Ghatti, at the Khalsa Day celebrations at City Hall, Toronto, waiting to set up the stall serving tea, samosas and laddoos. (Photo: Ela Dutt)

The parade has been an annual feature for decades, according to Ontario Police officer I. Ghatti, who told News India Times this was his 13th year attending it. He and some other Sikhs were busy putting up a stall to serve tea, samosas, and laddoos, which this correspondent enjoyed. “Usually the crowd is more than 70,000 in previous years,” but today is a cold day, Ghatti told News India Times, wondering if the crowds would be as large. Judging from the parade down University Avenue which converged at City Hall, it probably equaled past years. Next weekend, another parade will be held in Etobicoke, in North Toronto, which also promises to be a massive gathering.

Surinder Kaur and Sukhdev Singh Dhillon came from Brampton, a Toronto suburb, to attend the April 30 Khalsa Day parade at City Hall. (Photo: Aruna Dutt)

The values of Sikhs have contributed to the city of Toronto, said Mayor John Tory, and quoted a passage from Guru Arjun Singh. He read out a proclamation declaring the day Khalsa Day, marking the founding of the religion by Guru Gobind Singh. Toronto’s motto is “Diversity is our strength,” and it is considered a model city where all beliefs and faiths are accepted, Tory said.

Meanwhile, some major arteries of the city, like University Avenue, were closed to allow for the mile-long parade that walked for some 3 kms, to gather at City Hall. Among the banners held up by marchers was one that read, “Independence Punjab, Referendum 2020.”

Greater Toronto has one of the largest concentrations of Sikhs, though Vancouver in British Columbia takes first place, and the West Coast is where some of the earliest Sikhs came from then British India, to settle.

Surinder Kaur and Sukhdev Singh Dhillon who made Canada their home some 10 years ago, said they had driven from the suburb of Toronto for today’s parade. They have been attending it for the last 7 years, they said. “Sikh philosophy says  – do labor, remember God, and serve the neede,” Dhillon said, and that is what this gathering wanted all Canadians to see.

Organized by the Ontario Sikh and Gurdwara Council, the monies donated during the parade will be donated to Hospital for Sick Children or Sick Kids Hospital as it is popularly known. It is one of the premier health facilities dedicated to children, just a few blocks away from City Hall where Khalsa Day was celebrated.

A volunteer tied a turban on this correspondent as another unidentified volunteer took a picture.

A turban tying stall was busy with a long line. It included women and men, including this correspondent. “It makes you feel proud,” said the volunteer tying the turban on me. It sure did.

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