07/01/2012 03:05 EDT | Updated 08/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Hot weather, happy crowds mark 32nd annual Toronto Pride parade march

TORONTO - They whistled, cheered and turned parts of downtown Toronto into a giant rainbow.

Thousands in colourful clothing streamed into the city's core on Sunday for Toronto's 32nd annual Pride Parade.

Many carried both the Canadian flag and the rainbow flag of the gay and lesbian movement, marking Canada Day and the end of the city's Pride festival in one go.

The theme for this year's festival was "Celebrate and Demonstrate," and neither was in short supply as waves of people crammed onto sidewalks along the parade route, laughing, smiling and dancing under a clear sky and sizzling 30-degree weather.

Their enthusiasm was matched — and at times surpassed — by those in the parade, which is considered the largest Pride march in the country.

"I enjoy being here with all the positive people," said Cassidy Shipman, 17, who travelled from London, Ont., to Toronto to see the parade for the first time.

"I'm gay and wanted to show my support. It's just really fun," she said while seated on the grass on Church Street in the heart of Toronto's gay village, just steps from the parade's starting point.

The fact that the parade and Canada Day fell on the same day this year wasn't lost on many.

A common sight was a fusion of the Canadian flag with the pride flag — a red maple leaf flanked on either side by the rainbow stripes of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual movement.

As the noisy, colourful parade filed past high school teacher Amanda Bradley, the 27-year-old said she believed the victories of the gay-rights movement are increasingly a part of Canada's cultural fabric.

"I have a certain number of students of who are queer and I think Canada's cultural and traditions are changing and becoming more accepting," she said.

"So I think it's a really great thing that the Pride Parade can be integrated with Canada Day."

Included among the 158 groups scheduled to participate in Sunday's parade was Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

Whether the group would participate in the march has touched off controversy in the past. The group cancelled plans to march in last year's event, but were out in full force on Sunday.

QuAIA has been criticized by Jewish groups and local politicians, and triggered a debate on free speech at the event, which in recent years has become increasingly sponsored by corporations — banks, brewers and, this year, even Google.

The march has also seen politicians from across the spectrum ride floats or stand tall in parade cars.

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair made the trip to the city for the parade, but one politician notably absent was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Ford said in April that he would be skipping the parade. It's Ford's second no-show in as many years.

The mayor has said his family tradition of a cottage gathering on the Canada Day long weekend keeps him from attending the popular street event — a reason some in the gay community have called a flimsy excuse.

The city's past three mayors have all taken part in the parade.

In May, Ford attended a ceremony on the roof of city hall to raise a rainbow flag marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Sunday's march capped the end of 10 days of Pride celebrations in Toronto.

The festival is a popular draw for tourists from within Canada and the United States, and pumps millions into the local economy.