‘United against evil’: Toronto holds numerous events to mark 1-year anniversary of van attack

Click to play video: 'Hundreds of people come together one year after deadly van attack in Toronto'
Hundreds of people come together one year after deadly van attack in Toronto
WATCH: Hundreds of people come together one year after deadly van attack in Toronto – Apr 23, 2019

Toronto Mayor John Tory says the city “united against evil” in the wake of the deadly Yonge Street van attack in Toronto that claimed the lives of 10 people and left 16 others injured.

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic incident.

“This unfathomable loss of life left our city in mourning … this was a tragedy the likes of which we’d never seen before,” Tory said Tuesday morning.

“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.”

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The community of Willowdale was forever altered when police said a man rented a van and drove it to the Yonge Street and Finch Avenue area before he proceeded to drive south down Yonge “striking pedestrians on the sidewalk and the roadway.”

Numerous events are planned around the city, including at Mel Lastman Square where people are expected to gather throughout the day to pay their respects to the victims and first responders.

“We Love Willowdale” is a movement which started as a group of concerned neighbours in the aftermath of the horrific attack but has since grown to be a community, hoping to further unite not just Willowdale but Torontonians as a whole.

WATCH: How Toronto lost its innocence after the van attack

Click to play video: 'How Toronto lost its innocence after the van attack'
How Toronto lost its innocence after the van attack

The “One Year Commemoration – a day to remember and heal” which the We Love Willowdale group has created, hopes, as per its website, to “ignite our community to care for each other the way we did in the weeks that followed that difficult day.

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A ceremony was originally scheduled at Mel Lastman Square for 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of the incident. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, the vigil was delayed and took place just after 2:00 p.m. inside the North York Civic Centre.

Victims’ names were read out one by one as family members and friends of those killed placed a white rose in a vase. First responders were also honoured using both words and music.

Chaplain Hugh Donnelly with Toronto Fire Services began the ceremony by addressing those who lost loved ones that day, saying the city shares their grief.

He said the event is also a tribute to those who carry “inner wounds” after witnessing the attack or its aftermath.

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WATCH: Toronto holds vigil at Mel Lastman Square in honour of van attack anniversary

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“We stand side by side today as a symbol of the solidarity we have experienced as a city, as a province, as a country, together with many people from around the world who have also shared in our grief.”

A vigil will be held at 6:00 p.m., also at Mel Lastman Square, with a free community dinner to follow at several locations.

At Olive Square, a prayer and a moment of silence was held at 1:00 p.m.

Trauma counsellors and therapy dogs were also available throughout the day for those in need at both locations.

Both squares had live music throughout the day. Local musicians who wanted to be a part of the special day were able to sign up for any open slot, so residents were able to hear a wide array of music fill the streets.

Music ran at Olive Square from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and at Mel Lastman Square from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

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Much like in the wake of the tragedy, where local community members took to the streets with chalk to write beautiful messages of hope and light, Yonge Street will be “reclaimed” once again. Anyone who wished to participated were able to grab a piece of chalk and leave their mark.

Messages such as “Love” and “T.O. Strong” and “Spread the Love” were spread along the street. Flowers were also laid next to a plaque that was temporarily erected to mark the grim incident.

Esther Linetski placed an orange carnation by the plaque. Linetski, who works in the area, said she meant to go out to the square for lunch on the day of the attack but was too busy to escape her office.

“I could have been out here,” she said, fighting back tears. “Thankfully I wasn’t one of the unlucky ones.”

In the aftermath of the attack on April 23, 2018, over $3.5 million was raised for the #TorontoStrong fund, which was created to cover costs incurred by victims of the tragedy.

The administrator of the fund, Barbara Hall, told Global News on Monday that nearly 25 per cent of funding recipients have actually donated the money back to others.

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Twenty-six families were affected by the incident and were given $10,000 to help pay for initial expenses, while some money was donated to funeral expenses and the rest was to support the injured.

While there is not a complete list of the names of all of those injured, the following is a list of the lives lost.

Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 45, of Toronto, Andrea Bradden, 33, of Woodbridge, Geraldine Brady, 83, of Toronto, So He Chung, 22, of Toronto, Anne Marie D’Amico, 30, of Toronto, Mary Elizabeth Forsyth, 94, of Toronto, Ji Hun Kim, 22, who was a student living in Toronto but was from South Korea, Dorothy Sewell, 80, of Toronto, Chul Min Kang, 45, of Toronto, Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, 85, who was visiting Toronto from Jordan.

Hall said as she spoke to those injured in the attack and the families of the victims, many of them began asking if they could give the money to someone who needed it more.

She said many families wanted to give back even in the face of their own hardship.

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.

Politicians, officials react to 1-year anniversary

Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement on Tuesday calling the attack “monstrous” and “senseless.”

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“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.”

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also issued a statement praising the officers who responded to the attack, as well as the first responders and everyday citizens who helped those who were injured.

WATCH: Toronto honours victims of 2018 Yonge Street van attack

Click to play video: 'Toronto honours victims of 2018 Yonge Street van attack'
Toronto honours victims of 2018 Yonge Street van attack

“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.

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“The response of everyday citizens who rushed to the aid of victims that day, comforted strangers at a makeshift memorial site and brought food to police and other First Responders is an extraordinary example of who we are as Torontonians.

“Everyday, I am incredibly proud of the commitment of Toronto Police Service members in the work they do to protect this city by acting with bravery, professionalism and compassion. Each of the First Responders who rushed to the scene on April 23, 2018 earned our gratitude for saving lives.”

With files from Ryan Rocca and The Canadian Press

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