'Tonight we stand together': #TorontoStrong vigil honours victims of van attack

Thousands of people gathered at a vigil in north Toronto to honour victims of a deadly van attack that rattled Canada's largest city.

'Standing together united in grief is a defiant act of hope,' said one reverend

Ten candles lit up the night in north Toronto on Sunday as thousands gathered to honour victims of a deadly van attack that rattled Canada's largest city.

The candles, each representing a life extinguished in the violence, were lit as a reminder of the pain felt by the victims' families and all those in Toronto who were affected by the attack.

"We gather this evening to discover that our sorrow is reflected in the eyes of the strangers standing next to us. And so too is our hope," said Rev. Alexa Gilmour in an address to the crowd.

"For we have come believing that standing together united in grief is a defiant act of hope and healing in the face of evil. Tonight we stand together," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne were among the high-profile dignitaries who joined the sprawling crowd of mourners in Mel Lastman Square, just steps away from the stretch of Yonge Street where a driver plowed into pedestrians on Monday afternoon. 

These are the 10 people killed in the van attack. Top row, from left to right: Anne Marie D'Amico, 30, Dorothy Sewell, 80, Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Munir Najjar, 85, Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94, Sohe Chung, 22, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83, Ji Hun Kim, 22.

Rabbis, Christian clergy, an imam and a Buddhist monk are among those who spoke at the event.

"Words cannot sufficiently express what we have seen and felt over the past week," said Imam Refaat Mohamed, vice-president of the Canadian Council of Imams. 

This is my town and my heart is just rocked by this, and I just want to be strong for my friends and my family and everybody in this city.- Monica Gibbs, vigil participant

"Lord, please help the great responders, the doctors and everyone who has given so much to help manage the impact of what happened here last Monday," he continued. 

Many speakers commended emergency service personnel on their work the day of the incident, including the officer who was able to arrest the suspect without firing his gun.

"In Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada, we don't run away — we run to help others," said Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Beth Tzedec Congregation, the largest synagogue community in Canada.

Frydman-Kohl also referenced other van attacks in cities such as Paris, Beirut and Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Toronto has felt the pain of other places, and those cities now share our horror and hurt," he said.

Sunday's vigil was preceded by a public march down Yonge Street. Trudeau, as well as Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, sang hymns with marchers as they made their way to the square.

Jennifer Ludlow, who attended the march along with her church, had many friends who witnessed the attack and tried to help in the aftermath.

"It's amazing how on this one stretch of street, so many people are connected and affected by it," said Ludlow.

A choir sings hymns to a crowd of thousands gathered in Mel Lastman Square to honour those killed and injured in the attack on Monday. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"To come together as a large group really does bring us all together, and shows us there is hope on the other side."

The vigil also featured choirs from around the city. The event was co-organized by the City of Toronto and community groups Faith in the City and the Toronto Area Interfaith Council.  

Aerial footage of the crowd prior to the start of Sunday's vigil at Mel Lastman Square 0:47

Rabbi Eva Goldfinger is among those who addressed the crowd. She specializes in supporting inter-cultural communities and relations, and said it's important for people to feel like they have the support of those around them after a tragedy.

"Each of those who died are remembered as wonderful human beings who brought light into our world through a combined 539 years of their own acts of loving kindness," she said.

Refaat Mohamed, vice-president of Canadian Council of Imams, speaks at vigil to honour victims of Toronto van attack 1:08

"To make up for the loss of their continuing light and love, it behooves us to keep their light burning by continuing and multiplying their acts of openness, generosity and compassion. This will be their immortality. This will be the hope of a better future for us, for Toronto and for our world."

Amir Modaressi said he participated in the vigil to help deal with the memories of Monday's violence.

'Toronto has felt the pain of other places and those cities now share our horror and hurt,' says senior Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl 2:26

"I come because this is, I guess, a part of the healing process. I was here on the day of the accident, and now to get rid of those images, and to overcome those images, I believe this is the best way," he told CBC Toronto.

"To come here and unite with the people and share acts of kindness."

Hindu chaplain Pandit Suraj Persad commends Toronto police officers for their non-violent arrest of a suspect 1:14

Monica Gibbs said she wanted to show her support for her "community and the people that are all a part of it.

"This is my town and my heart is just rocked by this, and I just want to be strong for my friends and my family and everybody in this city. Everybody needs love," she told CBC Toronto.

People also gathered at Mel Lastman Square earlier in the day to pay tribute, leaving bouquets of flowers, hand-written posters and votive candles in a makeshift memorial.

On Friday, officials released the names of all eight women and two men who were killed in the incident. They ranged in age from 22 to 94, and included a student from South Korea and a man from Jordan.

The accused driver, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. He will be charged with three more counts of attempted murder at his next court appearance.

By Sunday morning, a city-organized fundraiser for the families of those affected had raised more than $1.7 million.

With files from The Canadian Press