IMG_8582.JPGWith all the euphoria that spring day, it was hard to choose the perfect spot to watch the Raptors victory parade.

Everywhere along the route, unprecedented crowds gathered along Toronto’s downtown streets to witness the spectacle of a winning team celebrating their victory for Toronto — a city where it feels like no one ever wins.

You could have joined the crowds gathering at Nathan Phillips Square – already thick by mid-morning. You could have huddled with the spectators along both sides of University Avenue, where finally, our boulevard of grand, celebratory proportions would be used to host a jubilant mass of joyful Torontonians.

IMG_8615.JPG

IMG_8578.JPGBut the best part of the Raptors winning the NBA championship was that it had nothing to do with nostalgia. The multicultural and decentralized fanbase crystallized the identity of today’s Toronto, representing a final departure from the hockey sticks, maple syrup, whiteness and wilderness of Canada’s imagined identity. It firmly asserted the existence of what actually defines our lives in Canada, a country of immigrants, where soccer, cricket and basketball are quickly superseding hockey, and where 80% of the population lives not in pristine nature, but the suburbs.

With its decentralized fanbase, the Raptors championship helped assert the public identity of the more suburban corners of the GTA. In parts of GTA we don’t associate with public life – like Brampton, Ajax, and Mississauga – central squares filled up for a communal experience and face to face interactions. With every victory, impromptu parties in strip mall parking lots were stirred up by cars’ celebratory honks as they zoomed along the 6-lane arterials of the inner suburbs.

Though the parade route was planned for downtown Toronto, it would have made just as much sense if it were up Hurontario and into Celebration Square in Mississauga, or along the 401, through Albert Campbell Square, and up the steps into Scarborough Town Centre.

And so, the best place to watch the Raptors parade was not in Nathan Phillips Square or University Avenue, beside the institutional symbols of old Toronto, but down by York and Harbour Streets, nestled between the shiny new condo towers in SouthCore, a neighbourhood that most clearly symbolizes the Toronto of 2019.

IMG_8444.JPG

IMG_8469.JPGAs crowds gathered under the Gardiner Expressway, condo balconies slowly fill up with onlookers, new vantage points of a city recently verticalized. From the many uncompleted condos, construction crews watched from scaffolding high in the sky – our very own Lunch atop a Skyscraper. As we waited… and waited, and waited… cheers echoed from under the highway and against the condo glass, a kind of welcoming embrace for these new icons of Toronto’s skyline.

IMG_8562.JPGOne of the best parts of the Raptors playoff run was how it transformed Torontonians relationship to public space, even before the parade. While the Raptors got ever closer to the championship, the sidewalks became extensions of the bars where massive crowds gathered to watch the games together.

IMG_8436

IMG_8569.JPGDuring the parade, typically mild-mannered Torontonians climbed every climbable thing — bus shelters, street polls, scaffolding. Every accessible surface, grass patch and ledge were claimed as public space and filled with eager onlookers. Anonymous spaces became bona fide places: families with young children gravitated to the parking garages by York and Harbour Streets where kids’ sidewalk-chalk covered the highway-like thoroughfare usually hostile to any sort of lingering, let alone play. Banal skyscrapers lining the streets of the Financial District came to life as their occupants pressed against glass windows on every floor to take in the view of the streets filling with revellers.

IMG_8457.JPGWhile I wish so many people would turn out for something that mattered a bit more — a fraction of the people turned up for the climate marches in September — there were indeed political undertones to the day, most notably, the booing of Premier Ford from the GTA crowds who should be his main constituents, bringing politics and sports together in ways it usually resists.

We learnt a lot about ourselves during the Raptors’ 2019 championship run. As the team gets ready to open the 2019/2020 season, the hype now gracing the them will ensure that Toronto’s identity will continue to embrace to the farthest reaches of the region. And after climbing so many bus shelters and ledges, sidewalk chalking roads, and sharing space in jubilation, I hope that Torontonians continue to be emboldened to take joy in occupying our public spaces in everyday life, for sports, and for protests about the things that matter most.