A rose for each victim and a moment of silence to commemorate the lives lost were poignant moments during a ceremony held to honour those killed or injured in last year’s deadly van attack in north Toronto.
Emergency responders who were first on the scene were also commemorated.
Ten people were killed and 16 were injured when the driver of a white rental van plowed into pedestrians along a busy stretch of Yonge Street, between Finch and Sheppard avenues.
It was initially to be held at Mel Lastman Square at 1:30 p.m. the same time as the attack before lightning forced the ceremony into the North York Civic Centre and delayed it until 2:15 p.m.
Just before the ceremony, community members took part in a moment of silence at Olive Square.
Chaplain Hugh Donnelly with the Toronto Fire Services led the commemoration by saying, “We are here to express our love, our support and our compassion to the families of those we lost one year ago and to a community that, indeed, was shaken.”
Each victim’s name was read aloud as a family member or representative of the victim placed a single rose into a vase.
— Adrian Ghobrial (@CityAdrian) April 23, 2019
Chaplain Donnelly also encouraged those present to greet one another in hopes of breaking down the walls of grief felt palpably in that room.
“A ceremony like this one helps us to break down the walls of isolation which we use to keep ourselves separated from one another, but our pain and our anguish brings us together,” Donnelly said. “It allows us to share sacred space where kindness and compassion can be encountered.”
— Adrian Ghobrial (@CityAdrian) April 23, 2019
Hours before the memorial, Mayor John Tory spoke at City Hall and said everyone will be thinking about the innocent lives lost on that day, those injured during the attack, and all of the families of the victims.
“The pain of that awful day continues to be felt by everyone who loves this city,” Tory said. “I know that the pain of that day is the sharpest to those who were closest to it, and while a year has passed, that pain remains.”
Tory said the attack that left the city grappling with grief a year ago also set off a wave of solidarity and support among its residents. He hopes the city will show the same strength and heart in the future, and not just in the face of tragedy.
“This unfathomable loss of life left our city in mourning. We are a strong city, we have endured sadness before, but this was a tragedy the likes of which we’d never seen before,” Tory said.
“We saw people from all walks of life running to the rescue of those in need and offering to help in the aftermath. We saw people of all faiths gather to mourn and to provide comfort to those who needed it so very badly and many of whom continue to need and continue to receive support. . . . We saw our city united against evil and dedicated to healing and to love.”
Many of those who helped that day — first responders and Good Samaritans alike — are still affected by what they saw, Tory said.
Events are also planned elsewhere in the neighbourhood where the attack took place. The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events.
It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support.
The city is also expected to install temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created. The city says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring.
The city was gripped with grief in the wake of the attack and more than $4 million was raised in support of the victims and their families.
“On the one-year anniversary of the attack on Yonge Street the thoughts and prayers of Toronto Police Service members are with the families and friends of those lost to an act of senseless violence. The healing process continues for many members of the public as it does for the Toronto Police Service and First Responders,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement.
“I encourage anyone who is still experiencing the negative effects from that day to reach out to help, whether it be through their friends and family or through counsellors such as those at Victim Services Toronto. You are not alone in feeling the pain associated with this day.”
In a statement, Premier Doug Ford said the city and the country remains strong despite what happened a year ago.
“One year ago, terror struck at the very heart of our capital city, our province and our country. In a series of shocking moments of evil, loved ones were lost and lives were shattered forever. This senseless and monstrous attack shook our sense of security and our identity as a free and peaceful society,” Ford said.
“But even in our darkest moments, we always remain strong and united. In the face of such tragedy and terror, the people of Canada do what we have always done. We come together, as many will today at vigils across the city. We mourn those we have lost and comfort the families and friends left behind. And we demand that those who commit such cowardly acts of violence be brought to justice.”
Alek Minassian, 26, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He is set to face trial next February.