Penny Oleksiak among Olympians celebrated at east end Toronto event

Toronto residents celebrated Canadian Olympic athletes on Sunday morning as a procession rolled through part of the east end.

Flag-waving supporters greet swimmer Penny Oleksiak, a student at a Toronto high school

Swimmer Penny Oleksiak is swarmed at a procession honouring Canada's Olympic athletes. (Pras Rajagopalan/CBC)

Toronto residents celebrated Canadian Olympic athletes on Sunday morning as a procession rolled through part of the east end.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city thanks the athletes for their inspiring performances at the Rio Olympic Games.

The athletes in the street process included swimmers Penny Oleksiak and Michelle Williams, sprinters Alicia Brown and Crystal Emmanuel, beach volleyball player Kristina Valjas and gymnast Rose Cossar.

"You are all heroes to us," Tory told a cheering crowd in Kew Gardens. "I just want to be able to say how proud we are of you."

"It's so nice that we can do something like this that is a real community tribute to these young men and women," Tory said.

Tory declared September 7, 2016 to be Toronto Olympian and Para-Olympian Day as a city tribute to the country's athletes.

"The purpose of that is to have an official city salute on a day and we picked a day when the kids are back in school."

Johanna Carlo, an organizer, said the procession gave local residents a chance to celebrate Team Canada athletes for their dedication and performance at the Rio Games.

"It's a total grassroots thing," Carlo said Sunday. "We have a lot of history in the east end of nurturing talent." 

Residents wore red and white, waved Canadian flags and held up homemade signs in support of the athletes. They lined the streets to get a glimpse of the athletes as they passed by.

The procession left East Lynn Park, proceeded along Danforth Avenue to Woodbine Avenue, and travelled south on Woodbine Avenue to Queen Street East, along Queen Street. It then made its way to Kew Gardens Park, where residents lined up to get autographs from the athletes.
Toronto families gathered along a procession route on Sunday morning to honour Canada's athletes. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne greeted the athletes in a private location before the procession got underway.

All Canadian Olympic athletes who competed in Rio were invited to join the procession.

Former Olympians also took part, including swimmer Elaine Tanner, who competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Organizers of the procession include the Danforth East Community Association, the Beach Village BIA board, Toronto councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, Toronto MPP Arthur Potts and Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

Toronto residents gathered on sidewalks to show their support of Canada's Olympic athletes. (Ramna Shahzad/CBC )

Oleksiak, 16, a student at Monarch Park Collegiate, won four medals at Rio. She said before the procession that her newfound fame has been "a little bit crazy" when she is recognized walking down the street, but she is enjoying herself.

"I always stop for people and sign stuff," she said. "It's hard to believe. I'm not used to it. I've kind of like been thrown in the deep end trying to figure stuff out myself."

Oleksiak said she plans to start weight training on Sept. 4 and will be back in the pool by Sept. 15.

Sgt. Marc Herman, of Toronto Police Service's 55 Division, said no roads were closed for the procession but it was escorted by police.

A house in the Danforth area shows Canadian pride as a procession nearby honours the country's Olympians. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)