Maclean’s does, you know, actual journalism and debunks the million attendance figure for Toronto’s annual Pride Parade:

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 meter—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 metres squared. 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 metres squared. 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.

Then again math might be homophobic.

So where does the million number come from? Maclean’s purports to find the source:

“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.

Except that the million number has been bandied about long before the 2009 Pride event. A million is a nice round number that gets attention. Kinda like the claim of a million illegal back-alley abortions in America pre-Roe or the 100,000 back-alley abortions in Canada prior to 1969. People have trouble with large numbers, but round numbers are seductive. Anyone who has left an NFL game when more than 70,000 fans are leaving will realize that a huge crowd is difficult to count, but it just seems that there are tens of thousands of people at each exit. But for people who don’t have that reference, being around 70,000 people will seem like being surrounded by tens times that number. When you do the math, however, you realize that one million people would flood the streets of the whole downtown, not one two-block section.