Olympic flame lights Toronto cauldron after diversion due to protest
Web Staff, cp24.com
Published Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:21PM EST
Gold medal-winning hockey player Vicky Sunohara lit Toronto’s community cauldron with the Olympic flame Thursday evening following the day’s torch relay from Oshawa to Nathan Phillips Square.
Less than an hour earlier, protesters had blocked the flame’s route through Toronto’s downtown, leading organizers to split the flame in two to accommodate both a scheduled visit to Sick Kids Hospital and the welcome celebration at Nathan Phillips Square.
The ceremony scheduled to begin at Nathan Phillips Square at 7 p.m., but the flame did not arrive until nearly 8 p.m. due to the blockade.
Police called in reinforcements to the area near Yonge and Maitland Street at about 6:45 p.m. Hundreds of protesters from several different groups blocked the street, some expressing anger that the Vancouver Olympics are being held on Aboriginal land.
At least two people were arrested, police say.
After waiting with the procession for more than half an hour, relay organizers decided to take the torch on a detour in a vehicle in order to avoid the protesters. Organizers also lit the second torch at that time.
The runners who were cut out of the relay were given a chance to hold lit torches during the stop at Sick Kids.
The change in plans was a sizeable hiccup in a day that was overwhelming positive, with people lining the route to cheer on celebrity and community runners as the torch moved from Oshawa to downtown Toronto.
Runners carry torch with pride
A year ago, Mary Jane Torrie was told she’d never be able to walk again after having a stroke. Thursday morning, the Mount Joy Public School principal was an Olympic torch bearer as the flame travelled through Markham.
“It’s a real personal triumph to be out here carrying this,” Torrie said as she was cheered on by thousands along Highway 7 – including 400 of her students.
“It’s great to have this and I just can’t wait to be able to share this experience with family and friends and the students,” she says. “I’m just overwhelmed with emotion.”
The torch left Oshawa at 5 a.m. Thursday. It is in the area as part of a cross-country trip in a lead-up to the Vancouver Olympics in February.
Olympian Brian Orser carried the flame just before 8 a.m. He says it was wonderful to carry the torch and to see many young children along the route.
“It’s unbelievable,” says Orser, a two-time Olympic medallist. “Hopefully we’ve inspired somebody along the way.”
CP24’s Ann Rohmer ran with the flame at about 6:15 a.m. in Whitby. The torch made its way through Durham and York regions before arriving in Toronto on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a symbol of peace and hope,” Rohmer said before the crowd sang “O Canada.”
The torch entered Toronto just after 2 p.m. at Yonge Street and Steeles Avenue. As it travelled down Yonge Street it was carried by both Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of international charity Free the Children.
It then made a brief detour to Scarborough before returning to Yonge Street and continuing toward the city’s core.
CP24’s Melissa Grelo couldn’t contain her excitement as she waited on Yonge Street for her chance to carry the flame.
Surrounded by her husband, friends and family, she described getting pumped up with former Olympians while being driven to her spot on the route.
“We were all sharing our stories about what today means to us and we all ended up in tears,” she said. “You realize you are part of something really big.”
Youth activist Bilaal Rajan, 13, was scheduled to carry the torch at Sick Kids. He dropped into the CP24 newsroom earlier in the day and said he sees the Olympics as an excellent model of co-opration.
“It’s the biggest example of how the whole world can come together and put aside their differences,” said Rajan, who is a published author, motivational speaker and UNICEF child ambassador.
“I find it’s really important to get children involved in the world today so we don’t lose their attention.”
CP24’s Cam Woolley has been following the relay in his Breaking News Vehicle. He says crowds line the path and cheer loudly for about 15 minutes as torchbearers run through.
Woolley also says the relay has been the most punctual he’s seen over 30 years of policing.
By the end of Thursday, about 260 people had run with the Olympic flame.
Visit the official CTV Olympics website to watch the relay live. All day long, and on Friday and Saturday, CP24 will deliver updates from the route.