Toronto’s public agencies struggled to cope on Monday as hundreds of thousands of basketball fans descended downtown to join in the Raptors’ victory parade.
Transit providers were overwhelmed as crowds inundated surface routes and rail stations, and while emergency services initially reported the situation was challenging but manageable, a shooting near the parade’s end-point at Nathan Phillips Square caused momentary panic to which police and paramedics scrambled to respond.
In the early afternoon, three TTC subway stations — Queen, Osgoode and Dundas — were temporarily closed due to what transit agency spokesperson Stuart Green said were concerns about crowding at street level.
“People were finding it difficult to exit the station and we didn’t want crowds filling stations,” he said.
At one point the agency announced online it had cut overhead power in the area of Queen St. W. and University Ave. “due to unsafe behavior and people climbing #TTC infrastructure.” The power cut affected the 504 King and 501 Queen streetcar routes, and although the TTC later restored power, the routes continued to be disrupted by the crowds.
Green couldn’t put a number on how many people took the TTC Monday but said ridership was much higher than usual. As many as two million people were expected to attend the parade, which started at Exhibition Place and wound its way downtown to city hall.
Green said many of those two million attendees would have taken the TTC, which on a normal weekday moves 1.7 million people across the entire city.
He said the large crowds caused by the Raptors’ successful 2019 NBA playoff run, which before Monday had drew thousands of people downtown on game nights, have been the biggest single phenomenon to disrupt TTC service in recent years. The situation has been made more challenging by the fact that unlike other major events such as the Pride Parade or New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Raptors crowds have come during weekdays and outside of holidays.
The TTC announced its planned operational changes for the parade day on Sunday, and they included more frequent subway, bus and streetcar service in the downtown core. The agency also planned diversions to about a dozen bus and streetcar routes to accommodate the crowds, and deployed additional staff to help manage high passenger volume.
Green said those plans had to be modified Monday when the TTC decided to turn streetcar service back from downtown to avoid congestion.
GO Transit also experienced much higher than normal ridership. Scott Money, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial agency that operates GO, said all of the service’s buses and trains were operating at or above capacity Monday.
“This has been a real team effort and we have all hands on deck to get people down to the parade and back safely. Extra staff and extra transit safety officers are working to help our customers,” he said.
Money said on a normal day GO carries 200,000 people, “and today is definitely going to exceed that number by far.”
There were reports of excited basketball fans crossing live tracks at Union Station in order to get to the parade, something Money said was dangerous, illegal and “never worth the risk as trains can come through at any time.”
There were also crowding issues outside of Toronto, as people from across the region made their way into the city to celebrate the first time a Canadian team has brought home the NBA championship.
At Aldershot GO station in Burlington, tow trucks could be seen removing cars that had been parked illegally around the stop once its parking lot reached capacity.
Earlier in the day, Toronto police said that while it had been challenging to control the crowds in order to ensure the parade could get through, attendees were well-behaved and there were initially no serious incidents.
Hours later, police confirmed a shooting occurred near Nathan Phillips Square, at Bay and Albert Sts. Four victims were located, police said, noting none of their injuries were life-threatening. Three people were arrested, and two firearms were recovered. Police are continuing to investigate.
The shooting caused some attendees nearby to run from the area, causing a momentary rush in the crowd.
Toronto paramedics spokesperson Kim McKinnon said there were no patients transported to hospital from the ensuing stampede. She said paramedic services were “not sure about the extent of any injuries caused by people trampling over as a result of the chaos,” adding no injuries were serious enough to warrant an emergency run.
As the rally broke up, police said via social media it would be slow to respond to lower priority radio calls as officers assisted in dispersing the crowd. High priority calls would be answered as soon as possible.
The Raptors won the NBA Finals on Thursday, after beating the Golden State Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the series.
With files from Wendy Gillis, Sherina Harris, and Temur Durrani.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr