Residents from the Barrie area couldn't miss a unique opportunity to whoop it up in downtown Toronto with thousands of other basketball fans today to celebrate the Raptors' first NBA title with a championship parade.
The team's win over the Golden State Warriors last week marked the first time the Larry O'Brien Trophy was won by a team based outside of the United States.
Raptors fans crowded the streets of Toronto as double-decker buses with the players on board snaked their way slowly through the streets en route to Nathan Phillips Square.
Barrie resident and basketball fan Scott Lajeunesse took his daughters — seven-year-old Abby and 10-year-old Ellie — out of school for the day so they could join the party. They put down stakes around York and Front streets at Union Station.
"It was crazy," Lajeunesse told BarrieToday from his car while heading back to Barrie. "I've never seen anything like that before in my life."
Lajeunesse said he was happy to bring his girls along for the experience. They left Barrie around 8 a.m. to join in the festivities and arrived at Union Station around 10:15 a.m. It wasn't until shortly before 2 p.m. that the parade made its way by them.
"It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I wanted to take them down there to see how cool Toronto is and how the different cultures all get along together," he said. "Everybody was having a great time.
"There was no distractions at all," Lajeunesse added. "The girls met a few people in their mid-20s and were chatting with them. That was fun and it was a great experience overall."
After following the Raptors and seeing them win the title, it was a ride Lajeunesse says he'll never forget.
"It was amazing to see how Canada got behind Toronto," he said. "Everybody was just amped up. I was on a work trip in Montreal and talking to a 60-year-old grandmother about the Raptors. I would say a year ago, that probably wouldn't be happening."
Cookstown resident Cathy Boudreau, her husband Justin and 14-year-old son Evan had been at Nathan Phillips Square, but decided to move to University Avenue and King Street.
"It's crazy, it's packed, the streets are full," Boudreau told BarrieToday over the phone this afternoon amid the bedlam. "Police are trying to get people off the road. We've been standing here, I think, since about 9 or 9:30.
"The lineups for everything were insane," she added. "We thought we would move around from there, but we can't move from where we're at. Everybody is really excited."
Boudreau said she left Cookstown around 6:15 a.m. to get to downtown Toronto, while her husband spent the night in a Toronto hotel with one of their sons.
"It's quite something, and nothing like I've ever seen before," Boudreau said. "The super fan, Nav Bahtia, just drove by and the marching band is starting to come through now. It's insane, it's incredible, absolutely incredible."
She hadn't had a chance to see any players yet, but they were expected to follow the marching band.
Another area resident was works in downtown Toronto also witnessed the excitement firsthand.
“I’ve never seen Toronto full of so much energy," said Barrie resident and former Barrie Examiner sports reporter Mike Speers. "Raptors jerseys and championship shirts and hats are everywhere, there are tons of kids with their parents, strangers are high-fiving each other and you can hear the ‘Let’s go Raptors’ chant at almost every corner.
"The streets and sidewalks are completely jammed, with roads being closed even blocks away from the central celebration," Speers added. “It’s amazing to witness. I’m just not sure how I’m going to get home.”
Bradford West Gwillimbury resident Elizabeth Lambert also had a front-row view of the parade, because she works in a building at the edge of what became known as Jurassic Park.
Massive crowds started migrating toward the parade route hours before it began, and she could see hundreds of people packing the streets by 10 a.m.
“We have views from upstairs, but I went down for the parade,” she said. “All different age groups down there. Overall, everyone was in great spirits, (it was) just a long wait.”
The crowd was “very loud and excited,” with people also crammed onto balconies.
— With files from Jenni Dunning