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Thousands mark Sikh New Year at Khalsa Day parade

More than 85,000 Sikhs donned traditional saffron robes and marched through the streets of Toronto for the 29th annual Khalsa Day parade on Sunday.

The event marks the birth of Sikhism and Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year, with traditional music, hymns, prayers, and food served from the langar, a communal kitchen.

“It is like a party. It’s also a religious day — culturally also it’s a very important day — so a lot of people come out,” said coordinator Manjit Parmar.

“There will be lots and lots of food and all the food is free.”

Festivities started on Sunday morning at Exhibition Place, followed by a parade complete with floats and martial arts.

The route is east on Lake Shore Boulevard West, north on York Street and east on Queen Street to Nathan Phillips Square for closing ceremonies.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and Premier Kathleen Wynne are among the dignitaries who were there, as was Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats.

Mayoral candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow also said they’d take part.

Mayor Rob Ford attended the event for the first time since he was elected mayor, despite organizers saying the mayor had not replied to his invitation.

The event has grown since 1986, its inaugural year, when 2,000 people turned out. It’s now the city’s third largest parade.

Participants were asked to bring non-perishables for Daily Bread Food Bank.

Sikh youths collected more than 15,000 pounds of food at last year’s event.