A million people at the Pride parade? Really?

There’s a good reason the figure is unbelievable: it’s wrong

A reader sent Macleans.ca an email yesterday that called into question a figure we used in Monday’s round-up of ‘Need to Know’ news items. We had claimed Sunday’s Pride parade in Toronto drew an estimated one million attendees. As aggregated news items tend to do, our report used facts and figures from another news outlet. The estimate, wherever it emerged (likely a CP report also highlighting Mayor Rob Ford’s absence), was widely reported by major news outlets.

One million, eh? Really? That’s about one-fifth of the population of the Greater Toronto Area crammed into a 2-km parade route through downtown city streets. The letter writer, Steven Murray of Victoria, BC, whose math is undoubtedly better than mine, points out that this is “physically and mathematically impossible.” “To fit one million people into that space,” he wrote, “would require 25 people for each square metre—4 to 5 times as many as would physically fit.”

The total surface area of all the streets within the Pride festival grounds, which are bordered by Bloor and Gerrard streets, Yonge and Jarvis streets, is approximately 157,100 square metres. Aaron Gradeen, a Master’s engineering student at Ryerson University, quickly ran the numbers for me and concluded that even if people were standing shoulder to shoulder in every side street and alley, it would be highly unlikely. “If you can fit seven people per square metre, it’s possible. That just seems like a tight squeeze.” The parade route itself would be only about 40,000 square metres. Gradeen says that, assuming the parade route was 20 metres in width and two kilometres in length, you could fit roughly 280,000 people at the parade at any one time. That’s if there’s seven people standing in each square metre of that area. As an experiment, I taped off one square metre in the newsroom and asked my fellow Maclean’s staffers to stand inside it. At five people, it got awkward. At six, it was feeling quite intimate. At seven, we were clinging to each other to not fall over the taped lines.

Putting the math aside for a moment, here’s a shortcut to understanding that impossible attendance figure. It most likely emerged as an estimate based on a figure in the Economic Impact Report for Toronto Pride in 2009.

Screengrab from the 2009 Pride Toronto Economic Impact Study (Enigma Research)

“Attendance is a tricky word,” says Michael Harker, senior partner at Toronto-based Enigma Research Corporation, the event research company behind the report. “There’s a big difference between visits and unique attendees.” The document, which estimates attendance and economic impact, was submitted to and approved by Industry Canada. And it does have a one million figure in it. The 2009 Pride Toronto festival, which lasted from June 25-28, drew an estimated 1,120,000 visits.

“Visits is, a guy comes three times, we count him three times. Uniques is, he comes three times, we count him once.” That one-million figure, then, accounts for total visits to the festival—multiple returns over the span of four days—and not for boots on the ground at the festival’s flagship parade. The total number of uniques was actually 411,450, which, again, does not represent just parade attendees but all visitors over the course of the entire four-day event.

So that changes things. 

“Event promoters in general like to talk about the biggest number they can, as you can imagine. They might say it in an interview and then somebody, instead of calling it visits, calls it attendance, and the next person misinterprets it after that. I think that this is at the root of a lot of misunderstanding of the numbers. Yeah, a million people down Yonge St.—that’s not going to fit.”

Const. Victor Kwong, media relations officer at the Toronto Police Service, explains that the police don’t give estimates anymore. “We used to do estimates, but we got a lot of complaints. People would say, ‘oh you’re lowballing so that the event gets less press’ or, ‘you’re highballing so the event gets more support.’ So we just stopped giving out estimates a while ago.”

“But Pride doesn’t make up numbers,” says Harker. “The difference between those two numbers is on their website for anyone to see.”

When I asked communications director at Pride Toronto whether that one million figure sounded a bit inflated, he said he didn’t know. “We don’t have any official numbers yet. But that’s what the media outlets are estimating,” he offered. He then referred me to the Enigma report from 2009. Glen Brown, interim executive director of Pride, responded by email: “We usually try to avoid attendance estimates, since we don’t have any reliable methodology. We do know that almost 6,000 people marched in the Parade—a record number. Many other media outlets are estimating the crowd at a million.”

I edited and posted that erroneous estimate on Monday without giving a moment’s thought to how inflated that number sounded. Thanks to Mr. Murray for pointing out the blatantly obvious.




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A million people at the Pride parade? Really?

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • What is their agenda anyway? Is it to slowly convert everyone on the planet and ultimately destroy the human race? Or could it be more sinister than that? :O

      • If I were gay, the guy pictured above would convert me to straight.

        • Oh c’mon. The guys got a pasty white gut hanging over his belt, a mohawk hairdo, and he’s tickling other guys with a colourful feather boa. What’s not to like? 

      • Can I report CaptainAwesomer for the flagrant use of boring sarcasm?

    • Good thing for you that you’re so smart and you see through all that stuff. What if you were to wind up…(gasp!)….HOMOSEXUAL?

    • Ahh yes, The Protocols of the Elders of Homosexuals.

      • George Takei and Elton John are two of the elders.  I hate it when two guys in matching white business shirts and ties ring my door bell and preach the gospel to me.  It’s really annoying when they ask if I want to become a homosexual like them. It really bugs me when, next week, two different people with a child ring my door bell and badger me to take their FAB literature. They think that bringing a child will prevent me from slamming the door on them. Those Homosexual Witnesses really irk me.  They are like the Latter Gay Saints and the Church of Homotologists.

        The homosexual agenda–I blame it on elders George Takei and Elton John.

    • Really??? 17 people (at this time) made the effort to LIKE that bigoted comment? 

  2. And thanks to you Claire, for pointing out the mistake.

    I find it interesting that the organization didn’t try to come out with an accurate number. Would it be that the inflated number helps them.

    ““Event promoters in general like to talk about the biggest number they
    can, as you can imagine. They might say it in an interview and then
    somebody, instead of calling it visits, calls it attendance, and the
    next person misinterprets it after that. I think that this is at the
    root of a lot of misunderstanding of the numbers.”

    And we keep hearing about how much of a ‘boon’ it is to the city, and how Rob Ford should be made to go. Do inflated numbers keep that pressure up? What if they start to do actual guesses, and they see the attendance go down?

    • Yeah, what if? And what if everybody else did that, too? Why, that would be positively…..yawn….zzzzzzzzz.

      • And what if you had a point that made sense?

        Can we say amazing?

        • Just about every public gathering in the last few years has had inflated attendance numbers. Not sure why the various groups (Million Man March, Tea Party etc etc) insist on inflating the attendance, but they do and it’s generally only interesting to those who have an axe to grind with the group making the claim. The only reliable claim would be if Rob Ford claimed to have eaten 4 steaks, 7 hamburgers, 12 hotdogs and four fudge sundaes at the cottage over the weekend.

          • You start with a sensible point, and end with a useless and mean. Nice. (Not)

            You are right – most organizations will probably do that, They also are probably not the best equipped to do the count. If they do it once a year, do they have the right people to do it?

            Simple solution; ask the police to start to do the counts again.

          • Can’t take a mild joke about your morbidly obese hero? I’m a bigot against one particular fat guy?

            I’d wager my description of Mayor McCheese’s weekend eats was actually a conservative estimate. See? I am a conservative!

          • @google-fde71a274b4c408ab78fe5aeeba722a2:disqus

            I don’t have to ‘take’ the insult – it wasn’t aimed at me. I
            was only pointing out that you saying it was useless and mean. Simple as that.
            You are not a bigot, just rude and mean.

             

            I would guess that you know that your comments can be over
            the top, because you edited this one. (and these insults were aimed at me). The comment that you made originally,
            that was emailed to me by Macleans, was this:

             

            “ah shaddup you think-skinned prick. Can’t take a mild
            joke about your morbidly obese hero? So what campaign promises has Mayor
            McCheese delivered on?”

             

            I think we can all agree that it was rude and uncalled for.
            You agree because you edited it.

             

            As far as Ford being my ‘hero’ – don’t know much about him.
            There was an article in Macleans a while ago, but I didn’t read it. Contrary to
            Toronto opinion, Canada doesn’t revolve around it. I know very little about
            Ford, what he does, or what he stands for. I just pointed out that you are
            mean.

          • It’s funny that leftists only ever manage to make snide remarks Rob Ford’s weight and never, ever have any substantial comments to make. Shame on you Chad. You’re a bigot. Plain and simple.

          • I dunno; 4 steaks, 7 hamburgers, 12 hotdogs and four sundaes seems pretty substantial to me.

            What’s that? You meant substantive? Pardon me…
            ;-)

          • Now how would you define a leftist? Only lefties make snide comments and, ergo, I must be one?

            How many examples of ring wing bigots should I link for you –or are they not bigoted because you consider them to be on your side?

  3. Claire, excellent correction!  Very smart and reasonable.  Keep up the great work.

    • We`re through the looking glass on this subject. Excellent work, reporter. I like it when you put the lie to comments of groups I can`t stand. Hip-hip hooray!

      • Maybe I’m reading your comment the wrong way, but it seems like a miserable attempt at snark.  I support accuracy in reporting, regardless of the group it applies to.  In this case, I support the principles and objectives of the group in question.

        • I’ll look for your praise on similar articles in the future. What is so excellent about this particular correction? The article itself states in the second paragraph: “One million, eh? Really? That’s about one-fifth of the population of the Greater Toronto Area crammed into a 2-km parade route through downtown city streets. The letter writer, Steven Murray of Victoria, BC, whose math is undoubtedly better than mine, points out that this is “physically and mathematically impossible.””

          Could have ended it right there, but no, the excellence drones on and on.

          • You can also check out comments I’ve made in the past.  I’m not a fan of how the media tends to uncritically report wildly exaggerated numbers presented by various groups. Consider the anti-prorogation protests in 2010, when in some cases CAPP organizers reported turnout numbers that were three or four times the number of actual attendees, and these numbers were uncritically repeated by the media.

            I’m also not a fan of innumerate reporting in general.  So many journalists are utterly baffled when it comes to things like sums, counts, and figures. I don’t know why the article irked you so much.  Perhaps you see it as cover for homophobic bigotry.  I see it as a victory for accurate reporting.

          • I, like the organizers of the Pride parade, stand corrected.

          • I, like the organizers of the Pride parade, stand corrected.
            I’m guessing that happens often. 

          • Loving the new comments system. RagingRanter needs to respond to Crit_Reasoning to take a shot at me and I need to respond to you to tell RagingRanter he/she is correct; I am often corrected by people who may or may not be correct.

            Unless, RagingRanter, in his/her infinite wisdom, was referring only to the Pride organizers — I can’t speak them with the same confidence you speak for me.

  4. They claim 700K in Vancouver. It’s highly, highly doubtful that it even comes close to that number. There were 100K downtown for the Stanley Cup Final and it was complete chaos (before the riot!). So, how they can claim 700K is very, very curious.

    • Good point.

  5. My question for McLean’s: When you say the parade route is 40,000 meters squared, do you really mean to say it is 1,600,000,000 square meters (that right: 1.6 billion)? 40,000 meters squared is a space 40 km x 40 km.

    And if we really want to have fun and a chuckle or two, how about this: “The total surface area of all the streets within the Pride festival grounds, which are bordered by Bloor and Gerrard streets, Yonge and Jarvis streets, is approximately 157,100 metres squared”. That a space 157.1 km x 157.1 km. I know Toronto is the center of the universe, but sitting here in Victoria, I just can’t see it.

    • My mistake! I meant square metres. I’ve fixed the language. Thanks sinbo.

  6. More exaggeration: According to avert, at least 13,445 people have died of AIDS in Canada. The vast majority are homosexual men. The first diagnosis was 1981, so that’s about 450 AIDS-related deaths per year, versus about 145,000 heart and cancer deaths, some 322 times more. The Public Heath Agency Of Canada website says “the epidemic continues to grow in Canada, taking a tragic and unnecessary toll on some of the most marginalized populations in the country”. Huh? What is the yearly expenditure on AIDS research in Canada compared to cancer and heart disease?

    • Not sure what your point is?  (Actually, it’s probably pretty clear what your point is, but you don’t come right out and say it.)

      Regardless, the number of people who have died in Canada from specific diseases has NOTHING to do with how errors and confusion can easily arise when trying to estimate the number of people attending a public event.

  7. There are also people on the roofs of the buildings (throwing water) along the route and inside the buildings along the route.

    • This means there were two million or more?

  8. Only a minority of the comments posted here are actually about the the article: how crowd estimates are calculated at public events and how they can easily be confused and misinterpreted.

    The rest appear to be based overtly or subtly on bigotry. Which only demonstrates why an annual Pride event  in Toronto is still necessary. 

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