A massive climate rally brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to downtown Montreal on Friday in what Mayor Valérie Plante described as the largest protest in the city’s history.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who has become a star of the environmental movement, led the protest. She spoke ahead of the demonstration at a press conference on Friday morning, saying it was moving to see so many people take part in the fight against climate change.
“To once again stand together, people from all around the world, for one common cause, that is very empowering,” she said.
WATCH: Tens of thousands take to the streets of Montreal to demand action to protect the planet. Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines has more.
Organizers estimate about 500,000 protesters took part in the protest, which which kicked off in the afternoon at the Georges-Étienne Cartier statue in Mount-Royal Park.
Thunberg, for her part, called on Canada to take responsibility to protect the environment and she also had a message for political leaders in the country. She also sat down briefly with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the march.
“My message to all the politicians is the same: listen to the science, act on the science,” she said.
WATCH: Greta Thunberg meets with Trudeau on sidelines of Climate Strike march
The protest made its way through the streets of Montreal, but efforts were put in place to ease congestion. Public transit is free for the day, and commuters in Laval and the city’s south shore are also able to use public transit free of charge.
Montreal police advised residents to carefully plan their commute, saying traffic will be hard to get around the downtown core between Berri, Peel, St-Joseph and de la Commune streets.
At the end of the march, Thunberg once again took the stage to praise the hundreds of thousands of Quebecers who flooded the city’s streets. She told them they should be proud of themselves and that world leaders should act.
“This is an emergency and we will not be bystanders,” she told the crowd.
For her work to protect the environment, the Swedish teenager was also recognized Friday evening with a key to the city by Plante. Last week, the mayor invited Thunberg to receive the honour at city hall.
‘It’s still our future’
The movement gives hope to students like 16-year-old Thani Ratelle, who attended the protest in Montreal.
“Since everyone is together, I think maybe eventually it will make a difference,” said Ratelle.
Ahead of the climate march, several universities and CEGEPs in Montreal have cancelled classes. Included among them are Dawson College and John Abbott College. Concordia University has cancelled classes for the afternoon.
The Commission Scolaire de Montréal — the province’s largest school board — has also cancelled class for elementary and high school students. The Lester B. Pearson School Board says the day is already a designated pedagogical day.
Taicha-Cloé Théodore, 16, said it was important to be at the march — even if it means missing a day of school.
“It’s still our future,” she said. “If there is climate change, our children will surely live in a rotten world.”
The climate march was also attended by several federal party leaders. More than 140 climate protests were planned across Canada.
— With files from Global News’ Rachel Lau, Amanda Jelowicki and The Canadian Press