Twelve-year-old Aly Karim ran the entire 5.6-kilometre course through downtown Toronto. Four-year-old Fatima Harji hitched a ride on her father's shoulders. And two-year-old Amyn Mawani crossed the finish line asleep in her stroller.
They were among the tens of thousands of Canadians who participated yesterday in the World Partnership Walk, organized by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, to raise money for development projects in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa.
The 18th annual walk brought in an estimated $2.6-million, a 25-per-cent increase over last year's total. Walks were held simultaneously in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kitchener, London, Ont., Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Organizers had not completed an official tally of participants last night, but believed the sunny weather and warmish temperatures -- in most parts of the country -- brought out a record number of people from all walks of life, cultures and religious beliefs. The number is expected to have increased by at least 20 per cent from last year's 20,000 participants.
In Edmonton, under sunny skies and temperatures that rose to 20, an estimated 3,000 people -- a 50-per-cent increase over last year -- followed the route from the Alberta Legislature through the river valley.
Narmin Hassam, an Edmonton organizer, said one of the most remarkable aspects of the event was about 400 Girl Guides, many of whom completed the walk balancing steel buckets and water-filled urns on their heads or with log bundles strapped to their backs.
"It was part of their sense of awareness to do this and experience what women in developing countries experience," said Ms. Hassam, who estimated they had raised more than $250,000.
In Winnipeg, where 450 people walked from the Manitoba Legislature along the Red River, the event blossomed into a multicultural party. Led by a marching band from Yorkton, Sask., the parade of walkers was treated at the end of the five-kilometre trail to Indian, African and Ukrainian dances.
Similarly, a three-hour cultural variety show that included everything from hip-hop to ballet capped the walk in Vancouver. Organizers estimated that nearly 5,000 people hit the trail in Stanley Park, a number they suspect might have been higher had it not been for clouds and drizzle.
"But, miraculously, the sun poked its face out just as people finished the walk to sit down and watch the show," said Rahim Talib.
In Toronto, about 7,000 people walked the course -- double last year's number -- and raised about $1-million.
Rasika and Nizar Mawani have participated in each of the 18 walks. This year they brought their daughter, Amyn, and seven-year-old nephew, Hussein.
The couple said the walk is an opportunity to support the rest of the world. "We feel it's necessary to help the rest of the global village in the area of education, hospitals, health care and poverty," Mr. Mawani said.
Yesterday's walk was a first for Nehoob Harji, who brought his three children to learn about the cause. Breathing deeply after walking the entire course with his daughter on his shoulders, Mr. Harji expressed pride that his nine-year-old son, Karim, had raised about $220 in pledges.
Aly Karim of Brampton, Ont., who with two friends crossed the finish line first in Toronto, knows that the $150 he raised will go to help world poverty.
Lisa Mantais, 11, of Brampton, was there with her soccer team. They had so much fun raising several hundred dollars that they plan to take part regularly.
The walk, the largest annual event of its kind in Canada, is "a meaningful way to bring everyone together in partnership with those living in poverty," said Deputy Prime Minister John Manley as he kicked off the walk in Ottawa.
Thousands of volunteers and about 800 corporate sponsors, including The Globe and Mail and CTV, supported this year's event. "Canadians are looking for what they can do to make a difference, and we're responding to that," Globe publisher Phillip Crawley said in a statement.
All of the money raised goes to support to fight world poverty, the foundation said. The Aga Khan Foundation is a registered Canadian charitable organization that helps the poor in Africa and central Asia, including Afghanistan.